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Preseason Recap #5: Gerbe’s goals not enough as Blue Jackets fall to Sabres in OT

CBJ lose 4-3 in a peak preseason effort

NHL: MAR 31 Blue Jackets at Sabres Photo by John Crouch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Nathan Gerbe scored two goals—one coming with less than two minutes remaining to force overtime—but the Columbus Blue Jackets fell to the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night, 4-3 in overtime, in the CBJ’s fifth game of the preseason.

Losing is never good. It should be avoided, if possible. Losing, however, can also provide valuable lessons that can be applied to future scenarios that may then result in a win, especially when the general stakes are as low as the preseason. Wednesday night’s action often looked sleepy and sloppy, featuring some glaring turnovers and an anemic power play. That said, the Blue Jackets iced a lineup that looked like this:

There are four NHL regulars on that roster, and one of them is Scott Harrington (sorry). Sonny Milano was a heathy scratch. Buffalo, conversely, played a version of their team similar to their standard regular season lineup, including No. 1 starter Carter Hutton (and, y’know, Jack Eichel). What I’m saying is: that was not a terribly fun game to watch, and I’m guessing coaches were looking to glean more from individual performances and guys trying to crack the roster (Marko Dano, Markus Hannikainen, Jakob Lilja, Andrew Peeke) than fine-tuning certain aspects of the system from people expected to play 82 games in it.

The Blue Jackets seemed to surprise the Sabres early in the game before Buffalo retook control late in the first and for most of the second. Nathan Gerbe scored the game’s first and Josh Anderson tied things up at 2-2 midway through the third. A Gerbe redirect pulled the CBJ back even with 1:56 left in regulation, forcing the team’s first overtime of the preseason.

Columbus didn’t do much in the overtime, and didn’t have much time to. After two Buffalo shots and some sustained pressure, Josh Anderson collected the puck and pushed a weak pass to Dean Kukan exiting the zone. Marcus Johannson intercepted said pass and went the other way for a 2-on-1 on the doorstep, where he waited a few seconds before picking his spot on the game-winner past Elvis Merzlikins. Yuck.

Final Thoughts

  • Speaking personally: it’s difficult to get worked up about preseason hockey, and it’s even more difficult when Dean Kukan is your leading defenseman with 21:32 of ice time. The Blue Jackets will probably take Josh Anderson, Alexander Wennberg, Markus Nutivaara and one other defenseman into the season from tonight’s team. That’s it. That they made it to overtime is impressive enough, given the circumstances.
  • With that, though...nobody really stood out, either. Anderson generally looked like Anderson, but a brutal turnover cost them the game. Nikolai Korostelev had his moments. Gerbe had two goals, obviously. Lijla picked up an assist.
  • Elvis Merzlikins did yeoman’s work and made some fine saves in the second, third and overtime. He also posted an .862 save percentage (25-for-29). To be fair, he’s played all of three preseason games in the NHL, all on the road. Gonna be a long adjustment period for him.
  • Shaw liked Peeke:
  • Quiet night for Emil Bemstrom, with only one shot and playing on an overall stinky power play.
  • Marko Dano, this isn’t helping:
  • Back at it at home against New Jersey on Friday night.

First Period

The Blue Jackets created some solid offensive chances early, establishing a strong forecheck and finally striking first at the 5:19 mark. Gerbe held his own against Buffalo’s Casey Mittelstadt despite falling to the ice, gathering himself and using Josh Anderson as a screen to uncork a wicked wrister for an early 1-0 lead. Paul Bittner and Dean Kukan picked up assists on the play.

1-0 Blue Jackets, 5:19 of the first period

Columbus took a 5-0 lead in shots and consistently put bodies in front of Sabres opportunities. That’s a good sign for both Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo. If the team emphasizes cutting down on chances getting to these goalies, the better off these goalies will be. That’s obvious, but they need all the help they can get as they get settled.

Observation: Josh Anderson can get to the net whenever he wants. He did it on Gerbe’s goal and he did again (with the puck, this time) to draw a Colin Miller hooking penalty at 10:04 mark.

The power play didn’t look amazing. Standard entry problems we’ve seen over the last couple of seasons, and a juicy chance for Bemstrom skipped over the youngster’s stick and out of the zone.

First period mood from the always sunny Mike Harrington:

That “mostly NHL-level Sabres” team managed to get a goal in the period’s final minute. Buffalo outworked the Jackets along the boards, allowing Tage Thompson to fire a wrist shot from Etobicoke that deflected off Anton Karlsson and in.

1-1, 19:07 of the first period

Columbus held a 7-2 edge in scoring chances after the first 20 minutes.

Second Period

The Sabres raced to a fast start in the second. Dean Kukan tripped Jeff Skinner 1:18 into the period (where Marko Dano got into it a little bit) and Buffalo made the visitors pay 42 seconds later. Tic-tac-toe passing through the offensive zone ended with Skinner finding Sam Reinhart skating through the crease for a deflection goal and a 2-1 Sabres lead.

2-1 Sabres, 2:00 of the second period

The Blue Jackets had a chance to tie it up when they went back on the power play, thanks to a Marcus Johannson slashing call at with 7:49. Columbus lost the faceoff...and it didn’t get much better for the next two minutes. Bad entries, missed passes, you name it. Not encouraging.

One of the team’s best chances came right after the power play expired. Nikita Korostelev fought off a couple of Sabres below the goal line and found Paul Bittner, whose snap shot required an “oh sh—” pinball flipper save from Carter Hutton.

A too-many-men call (woof) gave the Sabres another power play at 11:31 of the second, served by Kevin Stenlund. The kill turned out to be Elvis’s time to shine—your goalie’s supposed to be your best penalty killer, and luckily Merzlikins stood tall for the shorthanded CBJ.

Merzlikins looked strong all period, PP goal aside. Elvis stopped a Kyle Okposo breakaway early on and finished the frame with 12 saves. The strong Sabres period (shots were 13-8 in their favor) gave the home side the edge in shots, 18-17.

Third Period

The two teams threw rocks at each other for the first half of the third until the Blue Jackets found an equalizer. A puck battle behind the net sunk too many Sabres in deep, and Jakob Lilja was able to work it out to Scott Harrington. Harrington found Anderson down low and the Andy Man beat Hutton high for a 2-2 goal.

2-2, 8:02 of the third period

The lead proved short-lived. Scott Harrington turned the puck over deep in CBJ territory to Jack Eichel, who immediately hit Victor Oloffson in front for a quick wrister. Tough shot for anyone to stop and it gave the Sabres a 3-2 lead.

3-2 Sabres, 9:57 of the third

The game appeared headed for a Sabres win...but big Nathan Gerbe had other plans. With less than two minutes to go, Korostelev snatched the puck out of mid-air and fired a shot on net. Gerbe redirected the chance past Hutton to tie the game and eventually send everyone to overtime.

3-3, 18:04 of the third period

And then...overtime. In the preseason? Is that even legal?

Thank you for reading over 1,200 words about an exhibition NHL game between Columbus and Buffalo. You are a real hero.