Quick Hits: Sabres at Blue Jackets

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Columbus, Ohio was the locale tonight between the Buffalo Sabres and Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus was sitting at the bottom of the Metropolitan division by a significant margin (seven points), and Buffalo four points ahead of Toronto for last in the Atlantic.

Robin Lehner got the start tonight for Buffalo, while Joonas Korpisalo got the call for Columbus.

Buffalo’s penalty kill continued its strong play as the defensive units killed off a two-minute illegal check to the head penalty committed by Zemgus Girgensons five minutes into the first.

Shortly after the expired Girgensons penalty, Seth Jones was sent to the penalty box for a two-minute holding the stick infraction. That powerplay developed no real chances. For Buffalo at least. Brandon Dubinsky intercepted a pass and found himself on a breakaway. Fortunately for Buffalo, Robin Lehner was up to the task and kept the game at a deadlock.

Robin Lehner continued his strong play through the 1st period as he stonewalled Cam Atkinson on the doorstep from a pass across the crease. A strong push from left to right and Lehner found himself in the perfect position to stop an excellent chance for Columbus to take the lead.

Dalton Prout sent the Blue Jackets back on the penalty kill as he was called for a hooking penalty on Marcus Foligno. Five seconds later, Buffalo was up 1-0. Right off the faceoff, Rasmus Ristolainen fired a shot from the point, which rebounded out to Jack Eichel. Eichel’s shot was eventually stopped, but the loose puck was scooped into the Columbus goal by Jamie McGinn. This being Buffalo’s first powerplay goal in five games.

Go ahead and re-sign him, Mr. Murray.

With 1:57 left in the first, Mark Pysyk was called for interference, sending Columbus back on the powerplay. Thanks to a crazy bounce off a clearance, David Legwand scored from roughly 150 feet out. Yeah, you read that right. Korpisalo tracked the puck properly, but when the puck came down to the ice, it landed on edge, sending it off in a crazy direction past his glove hand. Buffalo killed off the remainder of the penalty and left the first period with a 2-0 lead,while Columbus led 14-12 in shots on goal.

With 13:26 left in the second, Jack Johnson was sent to the box for two minutes after he sent Jack Eichel down to the ice on a tripping call. Buffalo earned a good chance on goal but that was all, and the Blue Jackets kept the game within reach.

Both sides exchanged penalties through the second period. Girgensons was sent to the box again for a hooking call. The Sabres’ penalty kill was up to the kill again, as they went 3-for-3 and Robin Lehner flashed the leather with two excellent glove saves.

Less than a minute after the Girgensons penalty, Scott Hartnell went to the box for boarding Cody Franson just outside the trapezoid behind Robin Lehner. Franson went down as his head went into the boards and Hartnell finished his check from behind Franson. This turned out to be a five-minute major.

But it was not long until we got to watch some 4-on-4 hockey, as Ristolainen was called for interference at the offensive blue line. Forty-one seconds after, the Sabres were down 4-on-3. Marcus Foligno the offender with a high stick, making Hartnell’s aforementioned five-minute major more than nullified for more than two minutes. Ristolainen’s penalty expired and made it four-aside. But the parade to the penalty box continued for Buffalo. Evander Kane. Two minutes. Tripping. Committed with five-seconds left in the period, time expired shortly after and Kane began the third period in the penalty box with Marcus Foligno. So for Buffalo, a five-minute powerplay opportunity disappeared faster than Houdini himself.

For the opening of the third period, Buffalo remained a man down. But Robin Lehner would not let anything by him, as he stopped two excellent chances by Columbus.

The pace of the third period could be described using two words. Fast and furious. It was end to end for the first six minutes as both teams played with an extra gear. Seven minutes in Buffalo made it 3-0 as Jack Eichel drove the puck down low and filtered the puck in front of net. Zemgus Girgensons put the puck off his own stick and McGinn flipped the puck by Korpisalo, making it his 14th goal of the season.

Paging Mr. Murray… Mr. Murray to the contract office.

Sam Reinhart decided to make it 4-0. After some strong work entering the zone by Evander Kane, he put the puck on goal and took the rebound from behind the net and flipped it out front, where Reinhart made easy work of the puck.

Not only was the third fast and furious, but it was very physical. Josh Gorges put a heavy hit on Nick Foligno at center ice, and Boone Jenner pushed Zach Bogosian head-first into the boards behind Lehner.

Chaos ensued shortly after. Even the Sabres netminder had a few words to say, as he got involved in the scrum behind his own net. Jenner received a five-minute boarding major and Brian Gionta served a penalty for Robin Lehner, as he earned a roughing minor.

Two minutes later, Buffalo had the man advantage for three minutes. The Sabres struggled to get setup offensively, as Columbus applied heavy pressure during the penalty, allowing them to successfully kill off the man advantage.

Robin Lehner wanted his shutout, and he definitely earned it by making an incredible sprawling save with his glove with just over a minute to go. No Ryan Miller shutout tonight!

Buffalo walked out of Columbus with a win and the Sabres’ second shutout of the season. As for Lehner, it was his first shutout in Buffalo blue and gold as he made 38 saves.

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    • Special teams

Buffalo’s defense was excellent on the penalty kill and their goaltending was even better. Columbus went 0-6 with the man advantage and had few chances to score with it.

The Sabres went 1-5 tonight while a man up, and while that is good to see them finally break the streak of so many games without a powerplay goal, they still had trouble setting up around the Columbus penalty killers for most of the night. Not to mention the had some cut short due to their own penalties.

    • Discipline

If it is not allowed in hockey, the Sabres probably did it tonight. Hooking, tripping, roughing, etc. Buffalo was in the penalty box a lot and it prevented them from really letting them run away with this game earlier. Buffalo had maybe 20-seconds out of five minutes to work with, but Ristolainen took a silly interference penalty, Kane a trip, and Foligno a high stick.

Luckily for the Sabres, Columbus had the ace of spaces in terms of lack of discipline. The Blue Jackets racked up a total of 28 penalty minutes.

It could be just one of those nights where a few silly mistakes resulted in penalties. Not to take away from their victory, but this team can play a much cleaner game than what they played tonight.

    • Lehner stands strong

“Who needs Batman when you have Robin?!” as Dan Dunleavy so eloquently put it a few nights ago.

Lehner was a man on a mission tonight. His lateral movement was excellent tonight, as he stopped several scoring opportunities right on his doorstep throughout the night. He was square to every shot, gave up few rebounds, and was brilliant on the penalty kill. Robin Lehner closed the night with what was probably his best save of the night. Already on the ice, he swept the puck away with his glove to preserve his first shutout as a Sabre. Not to mention he looks completely terrifying when he’s angry. Swedish metal can change a man.

It appears Tim Murray knows what he was talking about when he acquired Lehner from the Senators.

And speaking of Tim Murray…

    • SIGN JAMIE MCGINN!!!!!!!

The so-called throw-in from the Ryan O’Reilly trade continues to produce at a pace that leaves everyone’s jaws on the ground. He continues to show his extremely strong play in front of the net and is showing that putting him there can pay dividends for the Sabres. McGinn tallied his 13th and 14th goals of the season. McGinn is the depth player that Buffalo with place incredible value on in years to come, should they decide to keep him.

Beyond the goals, it is very clear that McGinn enjoys playing in Buffalo as well as the company of his teammates. With the team itself in such a youthful phase, it’s needed now more than ever for these young men to learn to play together and develop the chemistry and camaraderie that we see on the teams that constantly find themselves deep in the playoffs annually.

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    • Calder candidates

As the season rolls on, rookies across the league continue to impress. McDavid is always the first name we think of. Panarin is doing very well in Chicago, but as a 24-year-old with a handful of years in the Kontinental Hockey League, “rookie” should not really be a consideration. Anthony Duclair, also doing wonders in Arizona.

Overhearing some people complain that Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart are not getting the praise they deserve throughout their rookie campaign is perfectly acceptable to argue. But at the same time, it is perfectly fine. The Calder Trophy is a great honor, but what is also great is a pair of number two overall picks putting up points on a consistent basis. Tonight, Eichel had two assists, bringing his point total to 41 so far this year. While Reinhart is third among rookies with 18 goals, and Eichel is fourth with 17.

So to those upset about praise and shiny end-of-the-year awards, remember this:

It is okay. Especially when this team has two guys who are clear-cut cornerstones of this franchise for years to come.

 

Written by Sam Rodriguez

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