COLUMBUS, Ohio - Jack Johnson spent almost five full seasons with the Los Angeles Kings. Yet he's found a home in just six games with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Mark Letestu scored twice and Johnson had a goal against his former teammates to lead the Blue Jackets to their fourth straight win Thursday night, a 3-1 victory that ended the Kings' three-game winning streak.
"This one felt good. This has been a really great change for me," Johnson said after getting a goal in his second straight game for his new team—and the first against his old team. "I've been excited to come to the rink every day. These guys here have a blast here at the rink and it's carrying over onto the ice. Guys are loose and having fun. That's what this game is supposed to be all about."
Meanwhile, the Kings lost a game they badly needed. They came into the contest in a tight battle for the last playoff spot in the West. Instead, they were outplayed for most of the night.
"It was a disappointing start," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "You break down Columbus' last three games and they've had 2-0 leads on all three teams, Phoenix twice and Colorado. That was our focus, to not get behind and to try and match their energy early. We weren't all able to do that."
It was only the second two-goal game of Letestu's career, the other coming when he was with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Letestu had not scored in 16 games. He gave the Blue Jackets a 1-0 lead with a redirect midway through the first period, then scored on a rebound 3 minutes into the second period to end the scoring.
"It's just a matter of going to the net," he said. "It's tough to score in this league from outside. When you get to the net and get a little puck luck, good things happen."
Johnson and Letestu both spoke about building a team in Columbus, which has been beset by bad decisions and disappointments for most of the franchise's 11 seasons.
The Blue Jackets got off to a horrendous start, but have shown signs of turning things around lately.
"It's about building something. Obviously we're out of the playoff race but building a culture, building a foundation for something to work on next year," Letestu said. "Guys are really buying into it and it's showing on the ice."
One of those guys is Johnson, acquired along with a first-round pick from the Kings in the Feb. 22 deadline deal that sent Jeff Carter to Los Angeles.
Carter was lustily booed whenever he touched the puck by a crowd of 14,306. Acquired by the Blue Jackets from Philadelphia in a blockbuster trade last summer, he never seemed to fit in Columbus. He didn't discuss the trade for several days after the deal and many fans saw that as a sign he was unhappy. After a nondescript half season with the Blue Jackets, he was unloaded to the scoring-starved Kings.
"I didn't really think about what was going to happen," Carter said of the fans' reaction. "I just kind of went in and played my game."
One of the loudest cheers of the night came when he whiffed on an open-ice shot late in the second period.
Before the game, the Blue Jackets offered free nameplates to fans who brought in Carter's No. 7 jersey with Columbus—placing a piece of fabric over his name with that of the new No. 7, Johnson.
"It's easy," Carter said with a shrug.
Columbus interim coach Todd Richards was asked who got the best of the trade between the Kings and Blue Jackets.
"Tonight, obviously, I thought our No. 7 was pretty good," he said. "He was really good. Scoring a goal, you could see the emotion there."
Carter scored with 8.5 seconds left in the opening period to break a 1-1 tie and give the Blue Jackets the lead for good.
Blue Jackets starting goalie Steve Mason had 16 saves before he left with an injury, with Curtis Sanford coming on in relief to make 13 stops. Vinny Prospal added two assists.
Mason's left hand was cut by the skate of teammate John Moore after Moore was knocked into the net by Alex Martinez midway through the second period. It took 15 stitches to close the wound.
Richards said Mason would not be able to play for several days, pending a medical evaluation Friday. Mason did return to the bench for the third period.
The Blue Jackets had not won four games in a row since Nov. 17-22, 2010—a span of 131 games.
Anze Kopitar scored a short-handed goal for the Kings. Jonathan Bernier had 33 saves.
Sutter was asked about the recent inconsistent play of Carter and former Flyers teammate Mike Richards.
"I'm not going to single any of that out," Sutter said. "The only thing that kept us alive tonight was Jonathan Bernier and our penalty kill. Other than that, it was pretty much right across (the board)."
Notes: Columbus was without C Derek MacKenzie (concussion) and D Fedor Tyutin (broken right hand). Richards said Tyutin is not expected to return this season. ... Dustin Brown (5-5-10) extended his points streak to six games for the Kings, while Kopitar (3-3-6) now has a five-game streak. ... The game was the second of a four-game road trip for Los Angeles, which next goes to Detroit and Chicago. ... Columbus RW Derek Dorsett left with an upper-body injury and didn't play in the third period.
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