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Johnson encouraged by Blue Jackets' debut

Sunday, 02.26.2012 / 6:22 PM / 2012 Trade Deadline

By Alan Robinson - NHL.com Correspondent

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Johnson encouraged by Blue Jackets' debut
The Jackets rushed Jack Johnson into a game before he had practiced with them, more than eager for their first initial look at their new defenseman.
Jack Johnson
Defense - CBJ
GOALS: 8 | ASST: 16 | PTS: 24
SOG: 121 | +/-: -13
PITTSBURGH -- The Columbus Blue Jackets rushed defenseman Jack Johnson into a game before he had practiced with them, more than eager for their first initial look at the player who cost them high-priced forward Jeff Carter to acquire.
 
Their first impressions: Can't wait to see him again.
 
His first impression: Can't wait for the losing to stop.
 
The result was a familiar one for the Blue Jackets, who have 11 fewer points than any other NHL team – a 4-2 loss in Pittsburgh on Sunday in which they squandered a lead, some strong play and a Rick Nash goal that may possibly be his last with them.
 
But Johnson, who embraced the Los Angeles-to-Columbus trade as eagerly as Carter did going the opposite direction, said he was genuinely impressed with what he saw of the Blue Jackets.
 
Even if, with the NHL Trade Deadline now only hours away, this may be his first and only game with this group of players.
 
Johnson, who is being embraced by the Blue Jackets as one of the initial pieces to the rebuilding puzzle they have been attempting to solve for years, played 22 minutes, 33 seconds in his Columbus debut. He was a minus-1 (lowering his NHL-worst career total to minus-91), but he was credited with a hit and three blocked shots.
 

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Johnson was paired with James Wisniewski, and each looked comfortable playing alongside a teammate he had yet to practice with even a single time.
 
"It was a pleasure playing with him," Johnson said.
 
Johnson inadvertently helped with Pittsburgh's first goal as Evgeni Malkin's wrist shot deflected off Johnson's foot and past goalie Curtis Sanford in the final minute of the second period, erasing Columbus' 1-0 lead. Johnson, however, was hardly to blame on the play.
 
"It's unfortunate how they got their goal in the second period, but I think we executed as far as taking the puck out of Malkin's hands," Jackets interim coach Todd Richards said.
 
Richards liked how Johnson embraced playing every aspect of the game – even strength, shorthanded and the power play. Sanford liked the speed, visible talent and Johnson's move-the-puck style, skills that are expected to upgrade a team in need of more talent.
 
"He's really mobile, and him and James played well together," Sanford said. "There were a couple of times there were miscommunicated plays, but you're going to get that with a first game. He wasn't even on the ice with us for practice yet.
 
"They played well together, communicated well and they moved the puck well and he gets up the ice really quick. That's a bonus for our team."
 
Johnson formerly played for the University of Michigan, and he is eager to embrace the symbolic move from Hollywood to Holly Hill, one of Columbus' neighborhoods. The former U.S. Olympian already is enjoying the move back to what he calls "hockey country" and Big Ten territory.
 
"I was excited to get out there," said Johnson, who couldn't practice Saturday because he had yet to pass a physical. "I had plenty of energy and emotion to play."
 
That won't change, he suggested, despite the Blue Jackets' NHL-worst 18-37-7 record and the two power-play goals they allowed the Penguins, who scored three times in the third period to win.
 

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"We did some good things out there," Johnson said. "If we do a better job on the penalty kill, we will win plenty of games."
 
He wasn't kidding, either.
 
While Johnson has been in the League since the 2006-07 season – he was the third player chosen in what is widely called the Sidney Crosby Draft of 2005 – he is only 25. He figures that gives him plenty of time for the Blue Jackets to turn around. Johnson is signed through the 2017-18 season at a cap hit of $4.36 million.
 
Not that the trade isn't without risk for the Blue Jackets, who were convinced eight months ago that Carter was a key to their turnaround.
 
Despite his reputation as an offensive-minded defenseman – he has never been a shutdown defender – Johnson has only 35 points in his last 103 games. He also is a minus-13 this season despite playing all but one game of it on a Kings team that has a much better record than Columbus does.

For now, the Blue Jackets are looking only at the positives.
 
"I was impressed with Jack Johnson," Richards said. "It was what I expected. (He's) hard-nosed, had a couple of good hits, defended well, made some real nice plays on the power play, the execution part and bringing the puck out of our zone. He was one of our bright spots, I thought."
 

Quote of the Day

Just the feel for the direction they were headed and what they're trying to do, it just felt that this is a really good thing for this organization. They've got the pieces. We can put something together and go on a run or two and be together for a while, and I'm really excited about that opportunity. The team we have here has an opportunity to win, and that's the most attractive thing.

— Washington defenseman Matt Niskanen on why he decided to sign with the Capitals