In Vinny Prospal's 1000th game, the Jackets played their most complete and dominant game all season. They chased starting goaltender Jhonas Enroth, and ended up winning 5-1. It was a treat to watch, with every player on the ice contributing in his own way.
Throw in Sanford's crazy blue pads, two goals from Nasher and a pair of helpers from The Johan, and Columbus fans went home happy tonight.
Read on to see how it all shook out...First Period
The Jackets took to the ice wearing their third sweaters.
Seconds in the Jackets got the first chance of the game, when defenseman Nikita Nikitin one-timed a blast on net. Though he's more of a defense-first blueliner, he has a heavy, accurate shot and isn't afraid to let it rip.
For the first two minutes the Jackets maintained furious pressure on the Sabres, with a handful of chances in front of goaltender Jhonas Enroth. At the 2:43 mark however, the Jackets went to the powerplay. The Jackets failed to get possession of the puck after losing the faceoff, and after a turnover that led to a partial breakaway against, Grant Clitsome was sent off for hooking. With the teams playing four-on-four, the Jackets didn't allow the puck to leave the Sabres' zone. Mark Letestu had a great chance, but couldn't solve Enroth. Seconds later, Letestu and Fedor Tyutin went in on a two-on-one, but Enroth made a fantastic save to keep the score tied at niente. The Jackets went on to kill the abbreviated Buffalo powerplay.
The play went back and forth for the next two minutes, with each team showcasing speed and crisp passing. Rick Nash had an excellent chance midway through the period. He received the puck at center ice, and with two defensemen draped over him, he broke through and wired a shot on net, forcing Enroth to make another big save.
A sloppy line change by the Sabres allowed the Jackets to take the lead. With the Sabres disjointed, Ryan Johansen flew down the right wing, wiring a hard wrister on net. Enroth made the save, but Letestu fired the backhand into the net.
1-0 Jackets- Letestu (Johansen, Tyutin)
With eight minutes to go in the period, the Sabres crashed the net, with Sanford making the save. The rebound squeaked out front, forcing Sanford to make another save, this one of the acrobatic variety. Sanford has looked very steady since taking over as the Jackets' number one goaltender, and the confidence he has shown in net has had an amazing impact on the players in front of him.
As much as I don't want to admit it, I think Antoine Vermette has found a home as the left winger on the checking unit. Since moving to that line, he not only has his first goals of the season, but his defensive play has been outstanding. His work along the boards has led to a handful of chances, and has thwarted opposition teams' attempts to create offense.
My mancrush on Curtis Sanford was fully activated tonight. I even loved his bright blue pads. Seriously.
With 4:10 to go, Marc-Andre Gragnani went off for interference. The Jackets didn't take long to go up by two goals- James Wisniewski blasted a shot from the point, with Rick Nash tipping the shot past Enroth. The Jackets have looked more complete than at any point this season.
2-0 Jackets: Nash (Wisniewski, Carter)
With slightly more than a minute remaining in the first, the Jackets went back on the powerplay. The Jackets peppered the Buffalo net with shots, but couldn't solve Enroth. If it wasn't for his outstanding play, the Jackets could have been up by four or five goals at the end of the period.
End of the first period, 2-0 Jackets. Rick Nash playing like a man possessed.
The Jackets started the second period still on the powerplay, though they couldn't convert.
Seconds after the teams resumed five-on-five play, R.J. Umberger made an appearance, with a great effort, skating down the right wing, shrugging off a defender and getting a hard backhand shot off on Enroth. Enroth made the save.
I continue to be impressed by the steady play of John Moore. Though he needs some work in the strength department, he has provided sound defensive play and is making smooth transition passes. I can't wait for a little bit of offense from the youngster.
After a fantastic shift by Derek Dorsett, the puck ended up on Marc Methot's stick at the left point. He wired a shot on net, beating Enroth for a 3-0 lead.
3-0 Jackets- Methot (Wisniewski, Dorsett)
Just seconds after the faceoff, Johansen fired a wrister on net, and the puck slid behind Enroth and momentarily sat idle on the goal line, before Umberger tapped it in.
4-0 Jackets- Umberger (Johansen)
The Sabres then made a goaltending change, bringing in Drew MacIntyre in to replace Enroth.
The Jackets went on the powerplay shortly thereafter after Matt Ellis went off for hooking. The Jackets failed to score, but they were absolutely dominant. The best they've looked to that point.
The Jackets momentarily let their guard down after the powerplay concluded, and Jordan Leopold skated into the Jackets' zone, wiring a shot past Sanford. Zack Kassian earned the primary assist, his first NHL point.
4-1 Jackets- Leopold (Kassian, Regehr)
With 8:49 remaining in the second period, Derek MacKenzie went to the box. The Jackets killed off the penalty, and I can't stress enough how impressive a shift Marc Methot had. He blocked a handful of shots, including one blast that you know is going to hurt like hell in the morning, and completely shut down the area in front of the net. A true warrior. Sanford deserves credit as well, he was simply outstanding on that kill.
At this point the crowd was roaring. Early in the game, I heard "Let's go Sabres" chants, but at this point it's nothing but Jackets' fans making the building rock.
The boys were clearly jacked up by the crowd and the excellent penalty kill. Nikitin carried the puck up-ice, dishing the puck to Carter on the right wing. Carter faked a shot on MacIntyre, freezing him, and then he fed the puck to Nash who was cruising to the net. Nash had the easy tap-in for the goal.
5-1 Jackets- Nash (Carter, Nikitin)
The Jackets continued to be the better team right up until the end of the second.
End of the second, 5-1 Jackets.
Under two minutes into the final frame, the Jackets went back to the powerplay, but were unable to get anything going.
Arniel growing a van Dyke. Beauty.
With a four goal lead, Arniel started to give more shifts to the fourth line of Brassard, MacKenzie and Jared Boll. There is a lot of discussion about the value that Jared Boll brings to the team, consider me a member of the "play him" camp. His willingness to drop the mitts and crash the net make him a threat. That, and he hits everything that moves.
The bottom six was given a ton of icetime, and both lines were making things happen. Vermette in particular looked strong, winning seemingly all of his puck battles, and throwing in a sweet dangle to boot here and there. He's such a versatile player. Good NHL teams have guys like Vermy on their third line.
With slightly more than five minutes remaining in the game, Derek Dorsett went to the box. The Sabres couldn't convert.
Columbus ended the game on a high, with the crowd roaring and the team continuing to threaten offensively.
Final Score: 5-1 Jackets.
- Curtis Sanford. The guy continues to play outstanding. He's the undisputed catalyst of the Jackets' turnaround.
- R.J. Umberger and Antoine Vermette- two guys who have struggled mightily this season had their best games of the year tonight.
- Rick Nash- A pair of goals for the big man. Start of another binge. Right that down.
- Nikki Six- So steady, great shot, great trade by Howson.
Columbus Blue Jackets- Best game of the season for the Jackets. Total team effort, great fun to watch.
Bottom of the Barrel:
- I'm declining to complete this section.
This was Columbus' best game of the year. They were great on special teams, great five-on-five, Sanford was outstanding, and the big guy got back to scoring goals. This is exactly what we were all expecting this past summer.