Experience helping Johansenâ€™s skills emerge
It was late in the second period of the Blue Jackets game in Montreal last Thursday. Columbus center Ryan Johansen and winger R.J. Umberger had broken into the Canadiens zone on a two-on-one. Johansen had possession of the puck as he sped down the left side, with Umberger on the right wing. Showing tremendous vision and poise on the play, Johansen’s body language and moves indicated he could have gone either way, pass or shoot. He didn’t telegraph his decision, and that seemed to freeze goaltender Carey Price.
In many situations like that one, when a young player is holding the puck on a two-on-one break and the veteran player is the one busting down the weak-side wing, the tendency is to force the pass to the veteran. Not in this case. Johansen read the play and ripped a wrister from the right circle that beat Price to the glove side and helped the Blue Jackets come back from an 0-3 hole to tie the game before losing it late on Tomas Plekanec’s goal.
What the goal by Johansen showed is not just the skills he brings to the Columbus lineup, but also his growing confidence and belief in his skills and in his game.
“Yeah, definitely,” he agreed. “I was talking about this the other day and saying experience and playing more games and having that level of comfortability and confidence on the ice with my game and my teammates.
“You know, R.J. and I have played a lot of hockey together in the last couple of years, so we’re getting more and more comfortable with each other with all of our tendencies and stuff,” Johansen continued. “I felt like their defenseman on that play was really taking Umby away, so I decided I’d try beating Price and was happy to get it by him.”
Fast forward to Sunday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks. It was a 1-1 battle midway through the third period when the same duo helped create some magic for the Blue Jackets. This time Johansen looked up ice and realized he had a chance to spring Umberger in alone on goalie Eddie Lack. The issue was having three defenders between him and his teammate. No problem. With a pass that had the precision of the U.S. Naval Observatory Master Clock, Johansen found a way to work the puck through the first two defenders and then through the third defender’s skates right onto the tape of Umberger, who broke in for the game winning goal.
Again, the native of British Columbia says it’s experience that’s allowing him to be more confident in all of his efforts on the ice.
“Gaining more experience is helping all parts of my game, whether it’s a faceoff or defensive-zone coverage or any other aspect of the game,” Johansen explained. “Passing’s a huge part of the game. And knowing where Umby likes to go, or Comeau or Foligno or whoever I’m with, knowing where they’re most comfortable on the ice – where their kind of ‘hot spots’ are you could say - is really important.
“And Umby’s one of those guys who goes to the net really hard all the time. So I saw him streaking behind their defensemen, and I figured if I got it to him, he’d be all alone. The pass happened to get through, and his goal happened to be the game winner, so it was a huge goal for our team.”
Huge indeed. It allowed the Blue Jackets to stop a four-game losing streak and, in the process, earn their first win of the season on home ice.
Before this season started, Columbus coach Todd Richards talked about Ryan Johansen’s potential and wanting to see more from the big center, especially on the offensive side of the puck. Slowly, surely, with more game experience being the obvious key, that appears to be exactly what we’re all seeing.