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Preseason Game #1 Recap: Blue Jackets fall to Sabres 4-1 in opener

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But it’s just preseason, and just one game

NHL: Preseason-Buffalo Sabres at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets lost to the Buffalo Sabres tonight by the score of 4-1 in their preaseason opener at Nationwide Arena. I was there in person and rather than break down a play by play, I thought I’d share my observations of some of the players.

First, the NHLers

David Savard was one of the most active players on the night. He led all Columbus skaters in ice time, took two penalties, was on ice for two goals against, but also scored the lone Jackets goal. Overall, it was the Savvy we’ve come to expect: throwing his body around, blocking shots, and firing hard shots from long distance. One of his penalties led to Buffalo’s second goal (on a 4-on-3) but Savard made up for it by scoring a 4-on-4 goal just 8 seconds after that.

Markus Nutivaara was solid as well. He was the go-to defenseman on the power play.

No progress on either side in the roster battle between Dean Kukan and Scott Harrington. The only thing worth noticing is Kukan sported a new number: #14. Hott Scarrington was invisible, but not in a bad way.

Adam Clendening and Tommy Cross were veterans signed to bolster the Cleveland blue line. Both seem like reliable professionals who should help the Monsters quite a bit. Clendening especially stood out to me, in a good way. I don’t know that he deserves the 6th defenseman position in Columbus, but if there is a need for a replacement we could do worse than him.

For the forwards, the standout was Pierre-Luc Dubois. Rob Mixer said it best:

Dubois looked bigger and faster and was clearly the best player on the ice in every shift.

PLD’s linemates for the evening were Sonny Milano and newcomer Anthony Duclair. That pair of wings was under pressure to perform well and they made a very good impression, to me. Sonny seems stronger now, and his play away from the puck has improved. He’s never going to be a contender for the Selke Trophy, but he put in the work that should earn him more minutes. In addition to winning puck battles, he passed well and created offensive chances. He’s only credited with 1 shot on goal, but I feel like he did more than that.

Duclair made an excellent first impression, in my eyes. He is a wide body and he’s not afraid to get physical. But he’s no mere bruiser; he has plus puckhandling skills as well. Based on what I saw tonight, I’m baffled that he was available as a free agent.

The first power play unit was the 91/18/22 line with BJORKSTRAND and Nuti. The former didn’t stand out much tonight, but he didn’t play poorly. I won’t worry unless he is invisible when playing with his regular linemates.

Brandon Dubinsky fit the pre-camp hype. He seemed leaner and was moving better on the ice. Also won 60% of his faceoffs.

Now, the prospects

My favorite prospect of the game was Calvin Thurkauf. He’s another big body, and he was all over the ice throwing hits and chasing the puck. I think he can earn himself a call-up to Columbus this year as an injury replacement. He had 3 shots, 2 hits, and 1 takeaway in 12 minutes of action.

As I watched Vitaly Abramov, I was reminded of the scouting report from Corey Pronman: that he didn’t have the speed to make up for his small size. His skating style sometimes made it look like he was struggling to get moving. Despite his diminutive stature, he was not afraid to battle along the boards for the puck. His stick work was excellent. He’s just not able to get separation from other players on the ice and I think that could limit his ceiling in the NHL. I hope I’m wrong.

A much better skater was Jonathan Davidsson. He moved smoothly around the ice. Another nice thing about him is that he seemed to have good hockey sense and was always positioned properly. His game started slowly, however. I forgot he was playing tonight until he was put in the box midway through the second period to serve a bench minor. After that, I made a point of watching him on his next several shifts. At that point I saw him make some nice plays. None were the sort of gamebreaking talent I would have hoped to have seen from him. I want to see a lot more of him in preseason before deciding for myself whether or not he’s NHL ready.

Conclusion

It’s just preseason, and it’s only the first preseason. Many players were still trying to regain their legs after Torts’ infamous run test and bag skate. Others were shaking the rust off their hockey skills after the offseason. I would have liked to have seen more production against Buffalo’s B team, but this wasn’t a full Jackets roster by any means. The power play was disappointing, but they didn’t seem to be running a set system: they were just left to play hockey.

I can’t make conclusions about players after one game. I can only make observations on whether the returning players meet my expectation, and what first impressions the new players make.

Were any of you at the game? Did any of you watch the stream online? If so, which players impressed you? Which players disappointed you?