I can see what the coaches may have been thinking prior to this game: they are at home facing the last place Sabres- the perfect chance to start Anton Forsberg, who has yet to earn his first NHL win.
The plan didn't work.
There wasn't much flow to the game for most of the first half of the opening period. Neither team looked particularly sharp, with lots of missed passes and generally ugly play. The line of Nick Foligno, Artem Anisimov and Marko Dano did have some chances, but it was a slog until the midway point.
Just as the Jackets started to settle in and were beginning to look ready to pounce, the much-maligned Cody Hodgson threw a harmless backhand shot toward Forsberg, who lowered his glove to catch the puck. It ended up falling underneath him, and as he slid back to locate it, the puck slid into the net. Talk about a momentum killer.
1-0 Sabres: Cody Hodgson - Andrej Meszaros, Zach Bogosian
A few minutes later the Jackets had a chance to tie the game on the man advantage, when Bogosian was sent to the box for holding. The Jackets couldn't get set up, and with seconds left a Sabre defender cleared the puck high out of the zone. Near center ice, James Wisniewski, in his return to the lineup after a one-game healthy scratch, put his stick in the air, redirecting the puck behind and between he and partner Cody Goloubef. The puck slid into the Columbus zone, and Forsberg started to skate out to intercept it. He hesitated, and that gave Zemgus Girgensons the opportunity to skate between the defenders, where he picked up the puck and went forehand-backhand to beat the out-of-position Forsberg.
2-0 Sabres: Zemgus Girgensons - Unassisted
If the first soft goal didn't kill Forsberg's confidence, this goal definitely did. He was a wreck for the rest of the night. He continued to fight the puck for the remainder of the game, but was given the opportunity to fight through it by the coaches.
The Jackets almost cut the lead in half near the end of the first period when Ryan Johansen fired a shot off the crossbar, but they would come no closer before the first intermission buzzer sounded.
It was clear there was a message sent to the Jackets prior to the second period, as they came out strong and were able to get a quick one to cut the lead to 2-1. Jack Johnson, stationed at the left point, sent the puck down to Brandon Dubinsky behind the goal line. Dubinsky sent a sweet behind the back pass to Matt Calvert, who made no mistake in one-timing the pass behind Neuvirth.
2-1 Sabres: Matt Calvert - Brandon Dubinsky, Jack Johnson
The Jackets achilles heel this season has been giving up a quick goal after scoring one themselves, and it happened again tonight. Less than a minute after the Calvert goal, Mark Pysyk took a drop pass in the Columbus zone, wiring a shot into the net to regain the two-goal lead.
3-1 Sabres: Mark Pysyk - Brian Flynn, Marcus Foligno
Speaking of Marcus Foligno, when will he be a Blue Jacket? There's the connection with Nick of course, but he's got the size and skill set of a CBJ player.
The Jackets got into penalty trouble a few minutes later, with Alexander Wennberg and David Savard going off seconds apart from one another. Just as the first penalty expired, Chris Stewart was able to walk in from the right half-wall, ripping a slapper from the right dot past Forsberg.
4-1 Sabres - Chris Stewart - Zemgus Girgensons
The Jackets did not give up. They continued to press, with Johansen attempting to take matters into his own hands. Neuvirth was peppered at times, but stood tall. He was very good all night for Buffalo.
The Jackets had a bounce go their way at the 7:20 mark of the second, when after a Wisniewski point shot was blocked, the puck went right to a pinching Kevin Connauton, who was able to blast one from the dot to cut the lead in half again.
4-2 Sabres: Kevin Connauton - James Wisniewski, Ryan Johansen
There was some chippy play toward the end of the frame, with Stewart and Scott Hartnell getting into it after Johansen laid out Hodgson with a big hit along the boards. Stewart was given an additional minor giving the Jackets a powerplay. Pysyk was sent to the box shortly after Stewart's first penalty expired.They were unable to convert on either advantage, however.
The Jackets came out strong again to start the third period, including a great chance by Matt Calvert. He was very good tonight, and it cements my opinion that despite his name being included in trade rumors, I believe the Jackets need to hang on to him.
An unsuccessful powerplay early in the period was the Jackets' last great chance to cut into the lead.
With 2:25 Forsberg was pulled for the extra attacker, but the Jackets couldn't change the score.
FINAL SCORE - 4-2 Sabres
- You can see the confidence the coaches have in Wennberg. He's now on the top line, and is playing the point on the powerplay. The goals will come.
- Neuvirth was very good tonight, making 45 saves.
- This game was a disaster for Anton Forsberg. Here's hoping he can immediately put it behind me and that his next start will lead to his first NHL win.
- The Jackets' special teams took a hit tonight. They were 0-4 on the powerplay, giving up a shorthanded goal and a powerplay goal to the Sabres, who entered the night with the 30th-ranked powerplay and 29th-ranked penalty kill.