Blue Jackets notebook: Johnson, Wisniewski split up to help defense
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Last March, when the Blue Jackets found motivation in a long-lost season, Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski gave their defensive pairing a nickname: “controlled chaos.”
With this season now hanging in the balance — the Jackets are 4-10-2 and in last place in the NHL heading into Thursday’s game in Detroit — Richards has split up Johnson and Wisniewski.
The reason? He’s looking for more “control” and less “chaos” on the Blue Jackets’ back end.
In a 3-2 loss to Anaheim on Monday night, veteran Adrian Aucoin joined Johnson on the No. 1 pair, and John Moore skated with Wisniewski on the third pair.
“(Aucoin) can help Jack settle the game down, and I think Johnny Moore is the same with Wiz (Wisniewski),” Richards said. “Wiz and Jack have great offensive ability, but sometimes you need that guy — that calm guy — on the back end who can let his partner go out and do different things.”
Johnson and Wisniewski seemed an odd pairing when they were put together late last season. Richards put them together out of desperation, he said, after trades and injuries left him with little experience.
But the two were a pleasant surprise in the final 20 games of the season, when the Blue Jackets played their best hockey of the season.
This year, though, it has been a struggle.
Johnson, who is second in the NHL in average ice time (27 minutes, 21 seconds), has one goal, six assists and a minus-8 rating that ranks among the worst in the league. Wisniewski has three goals, four assists and a minus-4 rating.
Richards hopes pairing them with more conservative partners might help the Blue Jackets become more defensively sound.
“That’s what Oakie (Aucoin) offers Jack,” Richards said. “And Johnny’s got great legs, and he can get up down. It seemed to work (against the Ducks). I thought all six defensemen played well.”
Johnson prefers to carry the puck and Wisniewski prefers to pitch it in and fight for it. And Wisniewski is a pure shooter on the power play; Johnson is more of a set-up man.
But the two are similar players in some respects. They are aggressive with the puck, willing to take chances defensively to create offense and are seen as average at best from the red line back.
Unless one of them changes, it’s a difficult fit as a pair — and the Blue Jackets didn’t acquire either to simply be a shut-down defensemen.
The Fedor Tyutin and Nikita Nikitin pairing remains intact, despite Nikitin’s ongoing struggles with turnovers.
Caught in red tape
Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekäläinen remained in Finland after a trip to the U.S. consulate in Helsinki to obtain a work visa proved fruitless.
The hope is that Kekäläinen, who was hired one week ago, will get his papers settled today. If so, he still could join the club in Detroit on Wednesday.
Kekäläinen and John Davidson, the Blue Jackets’ president of hockey operations, plan to travel with the club on the final three games of the trip — Thursday in Detroit, Saturday in St. Louis and Sunday in Chicago.
Right winger Cam Atkinson hoped to return earlier in this trip. Now he’s targeting Thursday’s game. … The Blue Jackets have lost six straight road games since opening the season with a shootout victory at Nashville. It’s the longest road skid since the start of last season, when Columbus dropped seven straight. … Former Blue Jacket Mathieu Darche, who played in 250 NHL games with five teams, announced his retirement yesterday.