Horton scores in debut, Jackets blank Coyotes 2-0
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Nathan Horton scored in his Columbus debut, Curtis McElhinney made 34 saves for his second shutout of the season, and the Blue Jackets beat the sluggish Phoenix Coyotes 2-0 on Thursday night.
R.J. Umberger also scored for the Blue Jackets, who snapped a two-game losing streak amid a burst of energy provided by Horton, Columbus’ $37 million offseason free-agent acquisition.
Horton, the ex-Boston Bruins winger who missed the first 40 games following shoulder surgery, poked in a rebound late in the second period for his 199th career goal.
Umberger added a second power-play goal midway through the final period.
Mike Smith stopped 29 shots for the Coyotes, who were shut out for the first time this season and saw their streak of six straight overtime games snapped.
Horton seemingly always wore a smile in his first game since June. He grinned after his first shift, screamed after his goal and left the Blue Jackets thrilled as they try to climb into the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Late in the second period after Smith took a penalty for playing the puck outside the trapezoid, James Wisniewski took a shot that Smith poked away.
But the 6-foot-2, 229-pound Horton was right in front of the net and tapped in the rebound at 15:51.
Horton raised both arms and yelled, providing the Blue Jackets an immediate, if delayed, impact for their major investment.
Horton, who helped Boston win the Stanley Cup in 2011 and then had 19 points in 22 playoff games for the Bruins last season, signed a seven-year, $37.1 million free-agent deal with the Blue Jackets last summer.
How much did the Blue Jackets need him? His goal snapped an 0-for-18 power-play drought. His presence even seemed to help the defense, which had allowed six power-play goals in the previous two games.
In his first game since last season’s Stanley Cup final, Horton was matched with Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov. They had two solid opening shifts before Horton’s first shot was kicked away by Smith midway through the first period.
The Blue Jackets also activated goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (groin), who had been out 12 games, and defenseman Dalton Prout (upper body), who had missed six games.
Bobrovsky served as the backup to McElhinney. He made several difficult saves, including on Keith Yandle’s point-blank shot early in the third period.
The Coyotes lost defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson early in the first period on a hit into the boards by Derek MacKenzie. No boarding was called on the play as Ekman-Larsson retreated to the dressing room with an upper-body injury. He didn’t return.
Yandle, left off the U.S. Olympic team on Wednesday, then went after MacKenzie, and the two served fighting majors in a sloppy first period that saw only six shots apiece.
But the Blue Jackets dominated the second period and Phoenix had little energy as it failed to earn a point for only the third time in 12 games.
NOTES: Blue Jackets D Jack Skille (abdominal injury) returned to Columbus after being injured Tuesday vs. Colorado. … The Blue Jackets sent F Jonathan Marchessault, D Tim Erixon and G Mike McKenna to Springfield (AHL). … The NHL record for consecutive OT games is seven, set by Edmonton (2003) and Toronto (2008). . Former Columbus first-round pick Rusty Klesla (illness) returned for Phoenix after missing three games.