The Columbus Blue Jackets continued their post-All Star Break road trip on Thursday night with a visit to the Buffalo Sabres - a makeup rescheduled as COVID forced the cancellation of a back-to-back shortly before Christmas.
The Sabres, winners of just 14 games this season, are coming in as the losers of two in a row (to the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche). Both teams are clearly building toward the future, but there are still two points at stake.
For the Blue Jackets, Carson Meyer will be making his NHL debut for his hometown team if Patrik Laine cannot go. Laine, per head coach Brad Larsen, was dealing with a left wrist injury but did go through morning skate prior to the game. Meyer was called up on an emergency basis just in case. Meyer, from Powell OH, would be another local product in the lineup.
Pregame, it was announced Laine would remain in the lineup, Meyer was scratched, Fix-Wolansky remained in the lineup, and Elvis Merzlikins started in net.
Here’s what happened.
The Blue Jackets got the first shot on goal, but nothing much else happened early - the Jackets dominated possession but were unable to get any more shots on net in the zone through the first five minutes (though Jenner was credited with one from outside the blue line that forced a freeze after a long shift). Jack Roslovic forced a tough saved with 14 minutes remaining, and then seconds later Gustav Nyquist danced through the Buffalo defense, but the Sabres stood tall. The Sabres got their first shot on goal more than 7 minutes into the game, a rising shot from Alex Tuch that caught Merzlikins by surprise but he fought it off.
With 10:55 in the first, the Jackets got on the board. Jack Roslovic threw a centering pass in front of the net that hit defenseman Mark Pysyk and bounced past the Buffalo netminder Dustin Tokarski for the opening goal of the game. Greasy goal, but they all count.
Columbus goal (1-0): Roslovic from Gavrikov and Fix-Wolansky, 9:05
With 6:04 to go in the first, the Jackets earned the game’s first power play as Cozens went off for tripping Cole Sillinger, but Buffalo was equal to the task. The Blue Jackets generated several long range chances to close the period, but neither team was able to find the back of the net again. After 20 minutes, Columbus led 1-0 on the scoreboard and 14-7 on the shot counter.
As the second period began, Cole Sillinger had the first real chance with 18:11 remaining as he drove to the net and forced a save from Tokarski. With 16:remaining in the period, Buffalo finally got on the board. Following an icing, Roslovic lost the faceoff and a long shot from Rasmus Dahlin hit Merzlikins in the glove and bounced through the netminder and in. Elvis seems confused and acted as if it was hit by a high stick. The referees reviewed it, but it was deemed that Elvis simply misplayed it high. Very bad goal to allow from Elvis.
Buffalo goal (1-1): Dahlin from Jokiharju and Thompson, 3:27
Seconds later, Elvis fought off a shot that he thought he had - shaky moments from the Blue Jackets goaltender. The teams continued to trade possession, and low-danger cycles, through the middle part of the second period as both defenses collapsed around their netminders. Shots were 20-12 Columbus at the midway point, reflecting a slow pace (roughly one shot on net per minute). With 5:49 remaining, the Jackets crashed the net but were unable to put the puck in the net, and the ensuing Sabres rush saw a 3 on 2 turned aside.
With 1:37 to go in the second, Buffalo took a 2-1 lead. The Sabres kept the Jackets pinned in the defensive zone before Kyle Okposo was able to capitalize on a centering feed as he was left alone in front of net. Terrible defensive breakdown as Oliver Bjorkstrand left him all by himself.
Buffalo goal (1-2): Okposo from Jankowski and Pysyk, 18:23
At the end of the second, the Sabres led 2-1 on the scoreboard, the Jackets led in shots 25-14. Dismal period from the road team.
It took Buffalo all of twelve seconds to open the third period scoring. The Sabres forced a turnover in the defensive zone and Alex Tuch danced alone in front of net before roofing it over Merzlikins.
Buffalo goal (1-3): Tuch from Skinner and Thompson, 0:12
Immediately following the goal, Gavin Bayreuther attempted to lay a massive hit in the defensive zone, missed completely, and went face-first into the boards and went right down the runway. Less than ideal start to the period for Columbus.
With 15:12 to go, Brendan Gaunce scored his first goal with Columbus in his second career game with the club. Gaunce let a shot go from a sharp angle and beat Tokarski five hole to cut the deficit back to one.
Columbus goal (2-3): Gaunce from Kukan, 4:48
At the 14:14 remaining mark, Jakub Voracek was boxed for tripping Mark Jankowski. At 13:12, the Sabres crashed the net and attempted to shovel the puck past Merzlikins but the goaltender was equal to it. The Sabres dominated on the power play, but the Jackets managed to kill Voracek’s minor.
Columbus earned a power play and a golden chance to tie the game with just 6:29 remaining as Okposo was boxed for holding Andrew Peeke. Columbus was able to take advantage - Oliver Bjorkstrand was able to gather a feed from Patrik Laine and put the puck through Tokarski to equalize.
Columbus goal (3-3): Bjorkstrand from Laine and Voracek, 14:25
The teams closed regulation tied 3-3, though Columbus led in shots 33-27. In overtime, it took Columbus just 16 seconds to bring home the second point - Jakub Voracek put a shot in the net far side to bring it home, his first goal in 31 games. Columbus is now 4-1 in their last 5.
Columbus goal (4-3): Voracek from Werenski and Jenner, 0:16
Columbus Blue Jackets 4 Buffalo Sabres 3 (OT)
Good for Jack Roslovic to get on the scoresheet for his fourth game in a row. His return to Columbus hasn’t worked out as he or the team would have hoped this season, but if the team elects to trade him at the deadline, he’s beginning to bolster his trade value.
Consistently inconsistent is the best way to describe the Blue Jackets. One night they’re staging a comeback against the Capitals, the next they’re imploding against Buffalo and looking lazy on the ice with low danger chances. They’re a young team, but they are not playing with any cohesion or consistency to speak of on a night in night out basis.
Patrik Laine has been really good for the Blue Jackets of late. 10 points (6-4-10) in his last 5 games.
The Columbus Blue Jackets continue their road trip as they go north of the border to take on the Montreal Canadiens and new head coach Martin St. Louis on Saturday afternoon. Faceoff is scheduled for 12:30 PM EDT.