NHL: Offense giving Blue Jackets a boost

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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The Blue Jackets are a defensive-minded team at heart, one predicated on solid defending, good goaltending and, ideally, a lot of 2-1 wins.

But they have not stuck to the script. The Blue Jackets exit their holiday break tonight at the New Jersey Devils on a scoring spree: 28 goals in seven games. It brought their season total to 100 goals — 2.7 per game — and puts them on pace for 222 goals in 82 games, which would break the club record of 220 in their playoff season of 2008-09.

The Blue Jackets have never had more than four players score 20 or more goals in a season, but five are on pace this season.

“Certain guys have found their groove, and some have matured a bit and found a way to be successful,” center Mark Letestu said.

Letestu is not one of them. He led the Blue Jackets with 13 goals in 46 games last season but has just one this season. Vinny Prospal led the team in points and scored 12 goals last season but was not re-signed. Marian Gaborik, the club’s lone established, elite scoring threat, has played in only 18 games and will miss most of the winter because of a broken collarbone.

Yet the goals have come, sometimes in bunches.

Center Ryan Johansen has 15 goals and 15 assists and has emerged as a budding star. Right wing Nick Foligno (10 goals) is on pace for a career-high 51 points. Cam Atkinson, Artem Anisimov and R.J. Umberger all have 10 goals.

“I think that was the goal at the start of the year, to have five or six or seven guys at 15 (goals) or above at the end,” Letestu said. “I don’t think it mattered who those guys were. We’re fortunate that we have that many guys doing it. That’s the way we have to do it. We don’t have a guy, not yet, who is going to go for 40 or 45.”

Johansen appears to be capable of doing so one day. The fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft, he is on pace to join Rick Nash and Geoff Sanderson as the only Blue Jackets players with 30 goals in a season.

“He has shown he’s a deadly player, whether he’s making a pass or shooting it,” coach Todd Richards said on Monday after a 4-3 win over Carolina in which Johansen, from one knee, scored the tying goal in the final minutes. “We see it every day in practice. We know the talent he has.”

Johansen and Umberger have both scored four times on the power play. The Blue Jackets have 22 power-play goals in 37 games, matching their total in 48 games last season. That unit, which ranked 28th (14.2 percent) in the NHL last season, is up to 15th (18.2 percent).

The Blue Jackets rank 13th in scoring offense. They have never ranked in the top half in any season, yet Richards’ chief concern is on the other end of the ice.

The Blue Jackets had a top-10 scoring defense last season, allowing 2.4 goals per game. They rank 20th this season (2.84), though they have the sixth-best goal differential (minus-5) in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s good that everybody is chipping in offensively, but if we can find a way to tighten up and play that stingy style, our team will be a lot better because of it,” Richards said, “It’s nice to score four or five goals, but if we’re going to win consistently, it’s going to be by giving up one or two goals a night. That really gives us a chance.”

smitchell@dispatch.com

@smitchcd

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