National Hockey League

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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