Jack Johnson sat in his locker stall, surrounded by the media and wearing an ear-to-ear grin that did not need justification.
Since being acquired by the Blue Jackets just two weeks ago, Johnson has not only stepped into a top-four role on the Columbus blue line, but played a significant role in his new team’s season-best four game winning streak.
The Blue Jackets have faced four consecutive teams (Colorado, Phoenix twice and Los Angeles) either tenuously inside the Western Conference’s top-eight or within shouting distance of a playoff berth. Those teams are 0-4-0, have gained no ground in the standings and scored just five goals in those contests.
Johnson has scored goals in back-to-back games – the goals coming after he previously went 15 games without a goal. He now has a career best 10 goals on the year with 15 games to go, and both tallies in a Blue Jackets sweater were as timely as they were artful.
His rocket over the shoulder of Jonathan Bernier late in the first period Thursday night stood up as the game-winning goal, and it came in his first game against his former team.
“Tonight, I thought our No. 7 was very good,” Blue Jackets interim head coach Todd Richards said. “I thought he was really good. He scored that goal and you could see the emotion there, and it was good for him.
“I like the response from the fans, too – when Jack was announced as a starter and when he scored his goal, I liked the response from our fans.”
Johnson said playing with fellow American defenseman James Wisniewski has helped the transition immensely, and the two have become fast friends on and off the ice. He said they refer to their defense pairing as “controlled chaos,” among a list of other names they’ve come up with in their six games together.
His goal against Los Angeles came on a great read late in the period, and Derick Brassard’s pass attempt was stunted by a Kings defenseman. Johnson saw the loose puck, activated off the point and buried a big goal for Columbus.
“There wasn’t a lot of time left in the period, and (jumping into the play) you kind of roll the dice there but you don’t have a whole lot to lose,” Johnson said. “I just jumped right up the middle and found a bobbling puck there. Our forwards were trying to create something and the puck just happened to come right to me.
“It felt great, no question about it. It was a big goal for us to get one at the end of the period. The team was playing well all period and I thought we deserved another one.”
In the Blue Jackets’ 3-1 win over Los Angeles, Johnson logged 27:20 in time on ice and Wisniewski played a game-high 27:56. They saw most of their ice against the Kings’ top players and the only blemish for Columbus was an Anze Kopitar shorthanded goal – but neither Wisniewski nor Johnson were on the ice.
The pair collaborated for a +4 rating, fired seven shots on goal between them and helped shut down the Kings at even strength.
“This one felt good,” Johnson said. “I was real excited to play this game. This has been a really great change for me and I’m excited to come to the rink every day.
“These guys have a blast here every day and it’s carrying over to the ice. Guys are loose, they’re having fun and that’s what this game is supposed to be all about.”