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Odd Man Rush: Can Horton save the Blue Jackets?

By Michael Rushton, NHL Contributing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Columbus Blue Jackets had to wait 41 games to see what kind of impact Nathan Horton would have in their lineup.

They had to have liked what they saw on Thursday night.

Horton made his Blue Jackets debut with a bang, scoring a power-play goal in a 2-0 win over the Phoenix Coyotes. It was the 199th of his career and Columbus hopes the first of many to come with his new organization.

"You can tell that we're a good team when we work hard," said Horton. "I really enjoyed being out there with the guys. It was so much fun."

It was probably fun for the rest of the team as well. Horton is a proven winner with playoff experience, not something that any long-standing members of the Blue Jackets would be owners of.

The Blue Jackets have seemed to be stuck in neutral since their 92-point season in 2008-09 that featured the first and only playoff appearance in club history. But they have a reigning Vezina Trophy winner in Sergei Bobrovsky, a solid blue line leader in Jack Johnson and a number of key role players.

In Horton, their $37.1 million man, they hope to have a leader for at least the next seven years.

"He did a lot of good things. I'm excited because I'm expecting more now," said Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards. "It was his first game and he was kind of getting his feet wet and getting comfortable with the group out on the ice. There's still some work systematically in what we've got to do, but I thought it was a great start for him."

Horton's appearance also gave way to the new era of Blue Jackets hockey, one without former cornerstone Rick Nash. Arguably the best player to have suited up for the young franchise, Nash ran out of time waiting for Columbus to build and is now a member of the New York Rangers following a July, 2012 trade.

The Blue Jackets had hoped that April's in-season trade for Marian Gaborik would get the wheels turning, but he has managed just eight goals and 20 points in 30 games with the club and appears to be a player heading into the dusk of his career.

It doesn't help that the 31-year-old is currently sidelined indefinitely with a broken collarbone that he suffered in his first game back on Dec. 21 after missing 17 straight with a knee sprain.

In steps Horton, who gave the Blue Jackets an immediate jolt.

Columbus went into Thursday night's game scoreless in its last 16 power-play chances and just 1-for-24 on the man advantage over the previous seven games. Horton ended those droughts with his second-period, power-play tally, putting home a gritty rebound from in close.

"Sometimes I felt good, sometimes I felt bad," said the 28-year-old. "It's been a long time since I played. I was real happy, especially because we won the game. In the end, that's all that matters."

Horton has six 20-goal seasons under his belt, but has really shined during the postseason. He has 15 goals and 36 points in 43 games and led all skaters during the 2013 postseason with a plus-20 rating.

That was a solid follow up to his first go around in the playoffs, when he scored a pair of series-clinching goals in 2011 during Boston's run to a Stanley Cup title.

Now he is tasked with going from a contributor to a leader.

"We've got a great structure," Horton said of his new team. "(Richards is) a great coach. If we do what he asks, we'll be in good shape."

Columbus' current shape is one that needs wins. Though it sits 13th overall in the Eastern Conference, the club is just four points back of third-place Philadelphia in the Metropolitan Division.

Horton's goal helped the Blue Jackets snap a two-game slide, though Richards did not see much of a difference in how the team played, other than special teams results.

Perhaps it was just a simple upgrade in talent.

"I thought we played hard, checked well and did some things to create some offense in the offensive zone. I think all that was the same," said the coach.

It's tough to know what kind of impact Gaborik will have when he returns from his latest setback and Bobrovsky was able to dress as the backup on Thursday night after suffering a groin injury in early December.

Things are starting to fall into place for the Blue Jackets, with Horton perhaps the missing piece of the puzzle or the lost note of a song.

In fact, given that the majority of the Blue Jackets' existence has been defined with melancholy, Coldplay's song "Fix You" seems appropriate to sum up Horton's role.

"Lights will guide you home And ignite your bones And I will try to fix you."

01/03 13:16:32 ET

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Schedule

Saturday, April 19Full Scoreboard
Chicago3Final(OT) | Box
St. Louis «4Rink Replay
Western Conference Quarterfinals, Game Two. St. Louis leads series, 2-0.
Columbus «4Final(OT2) | Box
Pittsburgh3Rink Replay
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Game Two. Series tied, 1-1.
Minnesota13rd Prd | Box
Colorado3@theRink | TV: NBCSN, TSN, Altitude
Western Conference Quarterfinals, Game Two. Colorado leads series, 1-0.
Full Scoreboard

Standings

2013 - 2014 NHL Eastern Conference Standings
 
Atlantic Division W L OTL Pts GF GA Home Away Div
p-Boston 54 19 9 117 261 177 31-7-3 23-12-6 18-9-3
x-Tampa Bay 46 27 9 101 240 215 25-10-6 21-17-3 19-8-3
x-Montreal 46 28 8 100 215 204 23-13-5 23-15-3 18-8-4
x-Detroit 39 28 15 93 222 230 18-13-10 21-15-5 17-8-5
Ottawa 37 31 14 88 236 265 18-17-6 19-14-8 14-9-7
Toronto 38 36 8 84 231 256 24-16-1 14-20-7 14-13-3
Florida 29 45 8 66 196 268 16-20-5 13-25-3 13-16-1
Buffalo 21 51 10 52 157 248 13-21-7 8-30-3 7-18-5
 
Metropolitan Division W L OTL Pts GF GA Home Away Div
y-Pittsburgh 51 24 7 109 249 207 28-9-4 23-15-3 20-8-2
x-NY Rangers 45 31 6 96 218 193 20-17-4 25-14-2 16-11-3
x-Philadelphia 42 30 10 94 236 235 24-14-3 18-16-7 15-11-4
x-Columbus 43 32 7 93 231 216 22-15-4 21-17-3 16-13-1
Washington 38 30 14 90 235 240 21-13-7 17-17-7 12-15-3
New Jersey 35 29 18 88 197 208 21-11-9 14-18-9 16-9-5
Carolina 36 35 11 83 207 230 18-17-6 18-18-5 15-13-2
NY Islanders 34 37 11 79 225 267 13-19-9 21-18-2 10-16-4
 
x= clinched playoff berth
y= clinched division title
z= clinched overall points title
2013 - 2014 NHL Western Conference Standings
 
Central Division W L OTL Pts GF GA Home Away Div
y-Colorado 52 22 8 112 250 220 26-11-4 26-11-4 19-6-3
x-St. Louis 52 23 7 111 248 191 28-9-4 24-14-3 21-6-2
x-Chicago 46 21 15 107 267 220 27-7-7 19-14-8 13-13-3
x-Minnesota 43 27 12 98 207 206 26-10-5 17-17-7 14-12-3
x-Dallas 40 31 11 91 235 228 23-11-7 17-20-4 13-11-5
Nashville 38 32 12 88 216 242 19-17-5 19-15-7 12-13-4
Winnipeg 37 35 10 84 227 237 18-17-6 19-18-4 9-15-5
 
Pacific Division W L OTL Pts GF GA Home Away Div
z-Anaheim 54 20 8 116 266 209 29-8-4 25-12-4 22-4-3
x-San Jose 51 22 9 111 249 200 29-7-5 22-15-4 18-7-3
x-Los Angeles 46 28 8 100 206 174 23-14-4 23-14-4 16-10-3
Phoenix 37 30 15 89 216 231 22-14-5 15-16-10 14-9-6
Vancouver 36 35 11 83 196 223 20-15-6 16-20-5 12-13-4
Calgary 35 40 7 77 209 241 19-19-3 16-21-4 11-15-3
Edmonton 29 44 9 67 203 270 16-22-3 13-22-6 8-17-4
 
x= clinched playoff berth
y= clinched division title
z= clinched overall points title
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Scoreboard
Local
Final
NOR 1
DUR 2
 
Final
WAS 3
STL 4
Final
CLE 0
TOR 5
Final
DET 5
ANA 2
Final
BOS 4
BAL 2
Final
KAN 5
MIN 4
Final
CHC 8
CIN 4
Final
OAK 4
HOU 3
Final
PIT 7
MIL 8
Final
NYM 5
ATL 7
Final
TAM 16
NYY 1
Final
MIA 7
SEA 0
Final
TEX 6
CWS 3
Final
LOS 8
ARI 6
Final
COL 3
PHI 1
Final
SDP 3
SFG 1
 
Final
TOR 87
BRK 94
Final
LAC 105
GSW 109
Final
IND 93
ATL 101
3rd
OKC 64
MEM 57
 
Final
STL 4
CHI 3
Final
PIT 3
CLB 4
2nd Intermission
COL 3
MIN 1
 
Final
NOR 1
DUR 2