Tonight’s matchup saw the return of only three players from yesterday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins: Kevin Stenlund, Andrew Peeke, and goalie Jet Greaves. Tonight’s line-up featured a more veteran presence, as home games tend to do, but also the debut of the AAA Blue Jackets triad: Jack Roslovic, Sean Kuraly and Carson Meyer (Trivia: all three played for Miami of Ohio at some point). We also saw a new national anthem singer, Brandon Harvey. Is Leo(!) no longer? Unfortunately, the streaming portal didn’t vocalize his singing, but we welcome him nonetheless. Nationwide had more fans than we’ve seen in a while, nicely suggesting some return to normalcy.
The period started with the ice tilted in the Blue Jackets’ favor. The boys were buzzing, with an early chance to debut the new and improved power play. Although lots of flurry, the Blue Jackets couldn’t seem to set-up, but registered 2 shots.
At the 5:56, a beauty tic-tac-toe from Jack Roslovic, to Tyler Angle, who drew the Sabres’ defensemen deep, left a flying Oliver Bjorkstrand unopposed in front resulting in the first goal of the night.
At 9:19, the Sabres committed another penalty, this time cross-checking (although it looked like boarding) Jake bean, resulting in beautiful power play Blue Jackets’ goal by Bjorkstrand again, with an equal beauty assist by Jake Bean.
The Sabres were able to take advantage of some confusion in our crease around 11:20, as the puck slid under Elvis’ 5-hole. This seemed to awaken both the Sabres and Elvis, the former previously with only 2 shots on goal. For the remainder of the period, the ice was more evenly tilt with two notable 2-on-1s opportunities against Elvis. The Sabres seemed to find some momentum by the end, accompanied by some pushing and shoving on both sides.
The second period launched with a bang, with Vladislav Gavrikov shooting top of circle, catching Aaron Dell off guard. Again, the goal was made possible by Jake Bean battling on the boards.
Soon after, a Sabres delayed penalty saw our defense almost hitting the puck into our own net. Lots of bonus time on the man advantage as we played keep-away well. Bjorky did his best Alexander Ovechin, hiding all alone to unleash a wicked slap shot, but to no avail.
At 16:08, Bean flicked a wrister through traffic, with Peter Reynolds possibly getting a piece of it without recognition, making it 4-1. At the end of the second, we led in shots 35-27 and faceoffs wins 22-13.
We started the period with a CBJ goalie swap, Greaves (with this non-committal helmet), for Elvis Merzlikins. At 2:33, Mersch caught his own rebound off Greaves and punched…I mean shot…the puck into the net. There was some grumbling regarding possible goalie interference, but the goal stood. At 10:55, the Sabres were called for slashing. CBJ had fluid passing, but the Sabres became more aggressive on defense. Towards the end of the period, Kuraly was ROBBED on a 2-on-1 during a penalty kill, then later missed an empty net. Suddenly, the game took a nose dive. At the 2 minute mark, the Blue Jackets lost a defensive faceoff (major problem last year), and caught our defense sleeping, resulting in a Sabres’ goal. Just went things were getting interesting, at 19:06, we lost another defensive faceoff, and the Sabres took advantage of our sloppy defensive coverage, tying the game.
The Blue Jackets started the 4 on 4 with Bean, Roslovic, and Bjorkstrand. Roslovic frustrates in OT, and his initial push proved no different. Robinson couldn’t handle a cross pass from Kuraly, and Gavrikov with a 1-on-1 fail as he attempted his best Patrick Kane with a backhand shot.
Bjorkstrand: meander, weave, meander, miss.
Jack Quinn: head fake, score.
Roslovic: high glove attempt, miss.
John-Jason Peterka: miss, barely.
Stenlund: forehand, backhand, miss.
The Sabres won 5-4.
Bjorkstrand looked like a calm, cool, and collected veteran, and he’s going to be fun to watch. Kuraly was invisible (maybe needs a more offense savvy number?), except on faceoffs, with a 67% overall win. Jake Bean is my new favorite player. He looked comfortable, aggressive and active on the power play. Peeke was more aggressive as well. Roslovic looked solid and “responsible on defense” per JLGP, who apparently worked with Mark Letetsu over the summer in his former and short-lived role as CBJ development coach. Moreover, it was fun just to see our players shoot, not waiting for the perfect opportunity, not default passing and the endless set-up.
Next up: St. Louis Blues at Nationwide Arena, tomorrow at 7pm.