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NHL Columbus Blue Jackets

Nathan Horton Sparks Columbus Blue Jackets, Scoring Game-Winning Goal in Debut

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets have been hanging in there when it comes to contending for a playoff spot. Just a handful of points behind the eighth place Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus is one spirited run away from being in the postseason picture. Watching them last season, you certainly know this is something the Blue Jackets are capable of. All they need is something to get them going.

This may or may not have occurred last night.

Despite making big waves in signing former Boston Bruins forward Nathan Horton in the offseason fresh off his second Stanley Cup Finals appearance in three years, Columbus had yet to see him debut. Surgery on his shoulder kept Horton off the ice through the first half of the NHL season. However, last night marked the first time Horton played for his new team as they traveled to Arizona to take on the Phoenix Coyotes. There may have been some concern as to whether or not he’d have some significant rust to chip off, with this being his first game since June.

Those questions were erased late in the second period. While on a power-play, Horton staked his claim to the front of the net, grabbed a rebound and scored his first goal of the season. Anyone wondering if he was excited about this need only watch the absolute joy he showed after the shot went in.

”I had so much fun out there,” said Horton. ”It’s so exciting to be back.”

The team certainly appeared to respond well to his return as well. Horton’s goal, which ended up as the game-winner, snapped an 0-for-18 skid by Columbus’ power-play. The penalty kill, which had given up six goals in the past two games, stopped all five Phoenix power-plays. Goalie Curtis McElhinney, who had been shelled for five goals in each of his last two starts, shutout the Coyotes. And hey, reigning Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky was active for the first time in 12 games. Clearly this all had to do with Horton’s return, right?

No, of course not. But still, it’s very encouraging for a team that really needed something like this. As mentioned, Columbus got drilled by the Pittsburgh Penguins and Colorado Avalanche in their last two games. For a team that is facing a crucial season as they try to prove last year’s hot-streak wasn’t a fluke, it’s incredibly important for their offseason moves to make an impact. It’s just one game, but Horton is still 1-for-1 in making his presence felt.

It should be noted, though, that Horton has been known for being a little inconsistent, having various hot-and-cold streaks with both Boston and the Florida Panthers. This isn’t to say he’s bound to continue this in Columbus, more to note that one night should be taken as just that.

Still, the Blue Jackets need a boost. A game-winning goal from their marquee free agent signing could go quite a long way in supplying that.

Casey Drottar is an NHL writer for Rantsports.com. Follow him on Twitter @CDrottar19 or “Like” him on Facebook