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Horton scores goal in Jackets debut

The SportsXchange

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Nathan Horton waited nearly half a season to start showing his teammates what they got when the Columbus Blue Jackets signed him to a seven-year, $37.1 million free-agent deal last summer.

It took him a little over half a game to start justifying those numbers.

Horton banged home the first of two Columbus power-play goals with 4:09 left in the second period and the Jackets rolled to a 2-0 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday night at Jobing.com Arena.

The goal gave Horton 11 points (five goals) in nine career games against Phoenix.

"I really enjoyed being out there with the guys," said Horton, who missed 40 games. "Sometimes I felt good, sometimes I felt bad. It's been a long time, but I was playing and we won, and that's all that matters."

The win was also the Blue Jackets' second straight shutout over Phoenix after beating them 1-0 on March 16 in Columbus last season. It snapped the Jackets' losing streak at two and improved their record to 4-2 in their last six games.

"Our special teams were probably the biggest difference, but 5-on-5 and how we played the game, I didn't see much difference between this game and our last two or three," Columbus coach Todd Richards said. "I thought we played hard, I thought we checked well and we did some things to create offense."

Former Coyotes prospect Curtis McElhinney made 34 saves in the Columbus goal for his fourth career shutout. McElhinney came to Columbus along with two draft picks in a 2012 deal that sent center Antoine Vermette to Phoenix. He improved to 7-7-1 and handed the Coyotes their first shutout this season.

"He was disappointed after last game," Richards said. "There was probably two shots he would really like to have back in Colorado and you could tell after the game he wasn't happy. A great response from him, but I still think our group in front of him did a really good job."

The Coyotes, who were was already playing without captain Shane Doan (illness) and defenseman Zbynek Michalek (lower body injury), lost the other half of their top defensive pairing when Oliver Ekman-Larsson left the game after a hit from behind by Columbus center Derek MacKenzie in the first period.

Ekman-Larsson fell awkwardly into the boards in the neutral zone and appeared to hit both his head and shoulder. He skated slowly to the Phoenix bench while slumped over, then headed straight to the dressing room. He did not return.

The team announced that Ekman-Larsson suffered an upper-body injury and will be listed as day to day. No penalty was called on the play, but Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle immediately engaged MacKenzie in a fight.

Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said after the game that Ekman-Larsson "looked alright," but he wasn't sure if the injury could be long term.

"Not that I know of yet," Tippett said. "We'll see. I haven't really talked with him yet."

Ekman-Larsson is considered a lock to make Team Sweden for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, but the injury clouds that possibility.

Tippett seemed more concerned with his team's lackluster play.

"We didn't play well enough, we didn't execute well enough, we didn't compete hard enough," he said. "I didn't like a lot about our team tonight."

Columbus left winger R.J. Umberger added a power-play goal midway through the third period off a rebound that found its way onto his stick in the deep slot with the net wide open. It was Umberger's 11th goal of the season.

NOTES: Coyotes C Antoine Vermette and D Rostislav Klesla both played for Columbus earlier in their careers. Klesla was the Blue Jackets' first-round pick (fourth overall) in 2000. Vermette played parts of four seasons with Columbus from 2009 to 2012. ... Klesla returned to the lineup after missing the past three games because of illness. ... Coyotes D Connor Murphy is from Dublin, Ohio, and grew up a Blue Jackets fan. His dad served as an assistant coach for the team. ... The Blue Jackets were two for their last 32 on the power play entering Thursday night's game. They went 2 for 4 against the Coyotes. ... Umberger's goal was his 113th goal as a Blue Jacket, tying him with David Vyborny for No. 2 on the franchise's career list behind Rick Nash.
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