If it's important to impart good habits in young players early on, 19-year-old Ryan Johansen is developing a vital one just 16 games into his NHL career: scoring game-winners.
The Columbus rookie, a healthy scratch in Thursday’s game against Chicago, responded Saturday by scoring twice to lift the Blue Jackets past the Winnipeg Jets, 2-1. Johansen has scored the game-winning goal in each of his team’s three victories.
"I came in with the mindset going into practice and going into pregame skate today that I had to make a good rebound and play a great game," said the Jackets' first-round pick (No. 4) in 2010. "I definitely had a good focus coming into tonight's game. It's nice to be rewarded with a couple of goals."
Coach Scott Arniel was adamant that as Johansen continues to progress, he will become an integral part of the Columbus lineup.
"If he starts to understand that if he does the right things game in and game out, shift in and shift out, he's a permanent member out there," Arniel said.
Steve Mason made 35 saves to help Columbus (3-12-1) snap a three-game losing skid, while Winnipeg fell to 0-3-2 in its last five games.
The Jackets are starting to get all their important bodies on the ice at the asme time. James Wisniewski, who assisted on Johansen’s first goal, shared ice time with center Jeff Carter for the first time this season. Wisniewski was suspended for the first eight games of the season, while Carter returned Saturday after missing 10 with a broken bone in his foot. The new-look line of Johansen, Vinny Prospal and recent acquisition Mark Letestu (plus-6) provided the offensive spark.
Johansen’s first goal came just 53 seconds after the opening faceoff. Wisniewski picked up a Winnipeg giveaway near his blue line and fed to Johansen, who skated to the edge of the right circle before unloading a high slap shot high that beat Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec (25 saves) to his stick side. Columbus held the lead after one period for just the second time this season.
Prospal’s perseverance down the left side helped Columbus double its lead. He beat Dustin Byfuglien to a loose puck near the boards while Johansen raced to the edge of the crease and waited for the puck. Prospal eluded a sprawled Byfuglien and hit Johansen, who swatted a backhander past Pavelec at 4:06 of the third. Prospal has points in three straight games and leads the team with 14 (five goals, nine assists).
Mark Stuart made it close by scoring a shorthanded goal with 3:45 remaining in regulation. Byfuglien carried down the right side, bulled his way to the half-wall and fed a cross-ice pass to Stuart, who snapped a 10-footer inside Mason’s right post.
But it wasn't enough to get the Jets a win, and coach Claude Noel said his team’s recent struggles have become exasperating.
"Our guys played OK, but we didn't play as smart as we need to play," Noel said. "We've got to be better at managing the game. It gets frustrating."
Mason lowered his goals-against average to a still-high 3.67 after a solid performance, especially in the closing moments. The 2009 Calder Trophy winner endured a Jets onslaught after Stuart's goal but stopped everything, making a glove save on a long blast as time expired.
"We cut down on the high-grade scoring chances," Mason said. "That's what we needed to do. Obviously, we're going to give up some but to just keep them to a minimum is what we need from everybody here. It was a good game."