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Game #49 Recap: Vacation Hangover

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Not the start we wanted after the break

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Columbus Blue Jackets Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

After fretting over the Artemi Panarin situation, Columbus Blue Jackets fans were eager for an actual hockey game to distract them. For now, Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky are still on the team, so let’s enjoy them while we can, right?

Wellllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll about that...

During the starting lineup introductions, MrSwift reports that roughly half the crowd booed Panarin. I wouldn’t boo him while he’s still on the team, but I certainly understand why fans are angry with him. Swift also reported that Bob received only cheers. That’s what I don’t understand. If you’re going to boo Bread, you should boo Bob as well. Bob is the one who has sulked, has played poorly, and literally walked out on his teammates earlier this month.

The Sabres struck first by catching the Jackets in a line change. The Jackets couldn’t get in position to defend, leaving only Ryan Murray to defend against four Sabres. Bob blocked a Casey Mittlestadt shot, but no one was there to defend Evan Rodrigues from scoring off the rebound.

Fortunately the Jackets responded 1:03 later. Cam Atkinson received the puck behind the net, fought through traffic, and got the puck to Ryan Murray up top. Murray’s shot was deflected by Pierre-Luc Dubois on the doorstep:

Eight minutes in, the Sabres took the lead again. This play was a great example of what can go well when your passes are quick, accurate, and move the puck across the zone to pull the defense out of position. Jack Eichel set up behind the net, looking for the best pass. He looked to his right for Jake McCabe, who passed across to Rasmus Ristolainen. Ristolainen drew the Jackets to the left side of the zone, which left Sam Reinhart unmarked in the slot.

Less than two minutes later, the Sabres expanded upon their lead. Last summer’s top draft pick, Rasmus Dahlin, flashed his speed and skill as he skated through Oliver Bjorkstrand and Anthony Duclair as though they were traffic cones. Again, the puck got passed to an open player in the slot. This time it was Tage Thompson and he beat Bob high glove side.

There were defensive breakdowns on all three Buffalo goals to this point, but these last two were both ones that Bob should stop. Certainly it’s on him to stop those if he expects to get paid like the top goalie in the league. I feel like I’ve had to say this in multiple recaps already this season. Eep.

Throughout the first period, Buffalo dominated Columbus in the neutral zone. The entire Blue Jackets team looked sluggish and rusty. One could blame the long bye week, but the Sabres had one more day off!

At the end of the period, the Jackets got their first power play of the game, and that was our first chance to see what it looked like after working with new special teams consultant Martin St. Louis. It was a lot more aggressive, and as the power play wound down to start the second, they got a goal! Panarin worked the puck down the left side, then passed to Foligno behind the net. The Captain skated the puck around to the front of the net and scored on his third attempt:

Just 21 seconds later, the Sabres returned their lead to two goals. Bob initially stopped Jeff Skinner’s breakaway shot. But as he lost his balance, he lost track of the puck and it trickled past the goal line underneath him.

At this point I had all but given up on the game. The Jackets simply were not playing well. But then a miracle happened! First, Josh Anderson (one of the few Jackets to have a good night) charged out of the defensive zone with the puck. As he approached the net, he passed back to Scott Harrington, who advanced the puck to Brandon Dubinsky in front of the net. That’s Dubi’s fifth goal of the season, and Hott Scarrington’s 11th assist, if you can believe that.

But that’s not all! In the final minute of the period, the first line put together a great sequence. It started with Dubois winning a puck battle at the blue line of the defensive zone. He dumped the puck into the offensive zone, and Panarin won possession along the boards and flipped the puck back. Buffalo was about to intercept the pass, but Murray hustled and got to it first. A quick flick of the stick directed the puck to Atkinson, who tied it up from point blank range.

Somehow after all the struggles, we went into the second intermission tied at four. This was shortlived. Two minutes into the final frame, the Sabres had a possession where they won board battles and passed well. Rodrigues shot, and Sheary scored off the rebound.

Despite trailing for most of the period, the Jackets seemed to lack urgency. They waited longer than I thought to pull Bob. The final two minutes featured an extra skater for Columbus, not many good looks at the net. Buffalo won most of those faceoffs, each of which ended with an icing. The final faceoff was won by Dubi, but Seth Jones opted to pass rather than shoot, which I think was a mistake. Cam shot, but no one was there to get the rebound. Anderson would have been, but he appeared to have been interfered with in the aftermath of the faceoff.

This marks the first three game losing streak of the season. The Jackets remain one point ahead of Pittsburgh for third place in the Metro, and one point behind Washington for second (with a game in hand on the Caps). Next up, the Union Blue travels to Hoth Winnipeg to face the Central-leading Jets.