A couple of rookies, a returning veteran and a solid goaltending performance gave the Columbus Blue Jackets exactly what they'd needed so desperately -- a victory.
First-round picks Ryan Johansen and John Moore both scored their first NHL goals, defenseman James Wisniewski looked solid in his Columbus debut and Steve Mason stopped 30 shots as the Blue Jackets beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 on Tuesday night for their first win in nine games this season.
For the Jackets, the sense of relief was palpable.
"I don't feel like I weigh 275 pounds anymore. The win was the big thing," said forward R.J. Umberger, who scored the game's first goal just 21 seconds after the opening faceoff.
"I don't think anyone in that dressing room has been through anything like the three weeks of hell we've been through," coach Scott Arniel said. "A lot of baggage came with it. I thought the Dallas game (a 3-2 loss last Tuesday) we played well and didn't get rewarded. In Ottawa we played well for 59 minutes … Tonight everyone in the lineup stepped up and played a part.
"We were energized for 60 minutes. I'm glad for those guys to get that monkey off their back."
Defenseman Grant Clitsome had a career-best three assists and Mason, who left briefly after being shaken up during the first period, had his best performance of the season.
But the difference-maker was Wisniewski, one of the Jackets' two big offseason signings, who played his first game for Columbus after sitting out an eight-game suspension stemming from a preseason incident in which he delivered a hit to the head of Minnesota's Cal Clutterbuck. He played 27:21 and finished plus-1 -- but his presence belied his stats.
"It's tough to say that one guy can win a hockey game," Mason said. "But having Wiz back there is huge. His confidence, not just in the way he plays but in the way he carries himself kind of rubs off on the guys, especially the younger guys.
He's a real vocal guy in the dressing room, which was great to have tonight. Just a confident presence on the blue line, and hopefully we don't have to go long stretches without him. "
Arniel agreed that having Wisniewski back in the lineup made a big difference.
"First of all, he's got that shot -- a couple of times the goalie never even saw it," Arniel said. "His outlet passes were outstanding. That was one of the things we talked about when we looked at him during the summer. He made some great plays when Detroit pressured hard on the forecheck -- he made some great reads."
After sitting and watching his teammates struggle, a smiling Wisniewski was delighted to be able to contribute.
"It felt pretty good," he said. "I was happy with the way I moved the puck out of my own zone."
It was the second straight loss for the Wings, who opened the season with five consecutive wins before Washington routed them 7-1 on Saturday.
Columbus came into this game off a discouraging 4-3 loss at Ottawa on Saturday night, in which the Jackets gave up the tying and winning goals in the final 40 seconds. But Tuesday they came out firing on all cylinders and opened the scoring just 21 seconds into the game when Umberger fired a rebound behind Ty Conklin.
"Obviously we weren't prepared," Wings coach Mike Babcock said after his team's 5-0-2 run at Nationwide Arena ended. "They scored on the first shift. They worked harder than we did. They were better than we were.
"We weren't ready to go. This team was going to win eventually. They played hard tonight. They got some good saves. But they were better than us."
Darren Helm tied it at 4:54, whacking his own rebound past Mason, who left soon after with what appeared to be a shoulder injury. That brought on rookie Allen York, making his NHL debut. York played just 2:33 and didn't face a shot before Mason returned.
"It was something that was causing me a lot of pain for a little bit," said Mason, who termed it an "upper-body" problem. "I came back (to the locker room), gave it a little bit of time and figured I'd get back out there."
Johansen, Columbus' first pick (No. 4) in the 2010 Entry Draft, then scored his first career goal, a power-play tally at 8:56 that put Columbus ahead to stay. With the Wings penalized for having too many men on the ice after a bad line change, Johansen bounced a shot from behind the net, banging Clitsome's rebound off the end boards into the net off Conklin's skate.
"I tried to bank it off his leg and it trickled in," Johansen said. "It was a pretty good feeling."
Columbus outshot the Wings 14-6 in the opening period and continued to have the better of the play in the second. Moore, the Jackets' top pick in 2009, made it 3-1 at 14:16 when Cody Bass dug out the puck and fed Moore at the left point. The rookie defenseman slapped a puck that was standing on edge past Conklin.
"When we got that third goal, it was great to see the life on the bench," Arniel said.
Derek MacKenzie sealed the win by hitting the empty net with 54 seconds left.
The Wings have three days off before hosting San Jose on Friday, and they can expect some intense practices before the Sharks come to Joe Louis Arena.
"Any time you lose 7-1 and come out and play like that, you have a problem, so we've got to address that, obviously," Babcock said. "I wasn't very impressed. We didn't have enough good players tonight, which is real disappointing.
"There weren't a whole lot of guys who were really jumping for us tonight. As a coaching staff, we're supposed to have the guys ready, and we weren't -- as a team we weren't ready to go. Why is that? I guess we've got lots of time to ask. We got humbled in (Washington), and we got humbled here."
Material from team media was used in this report.