Columbus traveled north last night to take on the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the Buffalo Sabres. Columbus had to be considered the favorite, with Alexander Wennberg returning to the lineup from IR after missing 9 games. Also, Buffalo was starting Linus Ullmark, an AHL All Star goaltender with little NHL experience.
Buffalo opened the stanza on the front foot, registering five of the first seven shots on goal. Jack Eichel and Justin Falk saw tight chances turned aside by Sergei Bobrovsky early. Of note, Boone Jenner was taking faceoffs for Alexander Wennberg. Artemi Panarin sent a backhand off the goalpost at the 8:00 mark of the first. Sergei Bobrovsky denied a shot at the 8:30 mark, and the rebound went wide. Jack Eichel hit the crossbar at 9:00. Josh Anderson was hit and was dealing with a hand injury at the 10:30 mark, just as Tyler Motte took a tough hit and made his way to the bench.
With 8:19 to go, Scott Harrington turned the puck over on the neutral zone. Bobrovsky made the first save but Benoit Puliot put the rebound in at 12:41.
Buffalo goal: Pouliot from Okposo and Eichel, 12:41
Buffalo notched 11 of the first 15 shots so it’s not like the goal was undeserved. Columbus had not possessed the puck or challenged AHL goaltender Ullmark much at all for some reason.
How Columbus wasn’t bossing this tire fire of a team is beyond me. Columbus came out exceptionally flat, looking very disinterested. Jordan Schroeder stole the puck and fired a backhand wide at 16:30. Outside of that, this is just ugly as sin. Columbus did NOTHING to push the play in the first. Finally, with 2 minutes to go, Matt Calvert and Oliver Bjorkstrand made work of a solid shift in the Buffalo zone, forcing several solid saves out of Ullmark.
After 20 minutes, Columbus trailed Buffalo 1-0. Buffalo outshot Columbus 15-11.
Alexander Wennberg was injured again on a blocked shot with the inside of his leg and skated gingerly to the bench, the second Jacket to suffer an injury blocking a shot in the game, along with Anderson. Wennberg did remain on the bench. Columbus played well to open the second, but could not find a high danger chance to really test Ullmark. Wennberg did not miss a shift, but was in clear discomfort on the bench.
Seth Jones forced a nice save from Ulllmark at the 7:30 after a turnover from Buffalo. The Blue Jackets had the better run of play in the first half of the period but with Buffalo able to sit back and defend, the team found it difficult to test Ullmark. The Sabres were “parking the bus,” to borrow a soccer phrase. At the 10:00 mark, Ullmark made his best save of the night, flashing the leather to deny Seth Jones.
After minutes of end to end action, a Markus Hannikainen turnover led to a Buffalo two on one that came to nothing at 14:30. After Lukas Sedlak forced a turnover, Seth Jones had his shot saved and Ullmark was able to cover after a scramble with 3:11 to go.
After 40 minutes, Columbus trailed 1-0 despite outshooting the Sabres 26-22. At the end of the period, there was a scrum that led to Anderson and Ristolainen taking offsetting minors.
The two teams opened the third playing four on four hockey. Panarin and Jones combined to generate a solid chance early. Neither team found a goal while down a man. Bobrovsky was able to turn aside a solid Buffalo chance at the 2:30 mark. He totally bailed out Zach Werenski, who made very bad turnover behind his own net. Columbus was generating chances, but most were from distance or sharp angles, none really testing Ullmark. Jenner forced a turnover by Eichel that Foligno was unable to bury at 4:45.
Buffalo was able to take advantage of a funny bounce and confusion between Jones and Bobrovsky as the puck bounced to Okposo who buried it in a wide open net.
Buffalo goal: Okposo from Kane and Guhle, 7:18
That was an unfortunate bounce, but the face remains: Buffalo, the worst team in the league, had a 2-0 lead on the Blue Jackets while the Blue Jackets were generating zero high danger chances. Boone Jenner was pretty clearly the best forward on the night through the first 50 minutes despite playing with a just-returned Wennberg and a black hole Foligno.
Lukas Sedlak forced a save and a cover with 8:26 to go on a wrap around, but the point remains: Ullmark saw most every shot the Jackets threw at him, never forcing him to change directions or move laterally. There was little testing of the AHL goaltender.
Columbus earned a power play when Wennberg was tripped with 7:34 to go. The Blue Jackets had to have a goal on the power play and, against the 25th ranked penalty kill, finally got one. Artemi Panarin willed that puck into the net with a backhand from the faceoff circle. He singlehandedly made that happen.
Columbus goal: Panarin from Werenski and Jones, 13:45
Artemi Panarin hit the goal post so hard he might have dented it with 5:30 go, his second of the night. Ristolainen grabbed Anderson and held him at the whistle. Sergei Bobrovsky was able to make a save on Evander Kane with 4:29 to go.
Columbus was unable to find the equalizer as time expired. Buffalo notched an empty netter with under 10 seconds to go to ice it.
Buffalo goal: Eichel from O’Reilly, 19:54
Buffalo Sabres 3 Columbus Blue Jackets 1
Whatever. Get two points against Vancouver. Maybe the offense can try to find high danger chances again and someone other than Artemi Panarin can try taking shots on offense.