Chad Johnson

Sergei Bobrovsky’s 34 saves help Blue Jackets top Sabres

A second period outburst that saw three goals in a span of 2:59 powered the Columbus Blue Jackets by the Buffalo Sabres 5-1 Wednesday night.

Sergei Bobrovsky stood tall, stopping 34 shots to record his first win since Oct. 14 and thirteen Blue Jackets recorded a point. Seth Jones, Nick Foligno and Matt Calvert all scored in the middle frame to blow things open and help sink the Sabres to their sixth defeat of the season.

Columbus took advantage of their first power play of the game when Oliver Bjorkstrand wristed a shot by Chad Johnson midway through the first period:

While staving off the Sabres’ attack, Seth Jones gave the Blue Jackets a little breathing room late in the second as they capitalized on a 4-on-3 break:

It was the fourth time this season that the Blue Jackets have scored three goals in a single period.

According to the NHL, the win helped Columbus (6-3-0) match their best nine-game start to a season in franchise history. It also snaps a two-game slide as they prepare for three games in four nights beginning Friday against the Winnipeg Jets.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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Canucks defeat the Sabres, as the losing continues in Buffalo

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The Buffalo Sabres remain stuck on just a single win to begin the season. Jack Eichel is sick of losing, but the losing continues.

Returning home from a four-game road trip out west, the Sabres had an opportunity ahead of them to get back into the win column. The Vancouver Canucks, hardly a powerhouse in any way, were in town. They had played — and lost — the night before in Boston. And then the Sabres went out and were thoroughly outplayed in a 4-2 loss that, one could argue, flattered the hosts.

They weren’t able to take advantage of an early lead after Justin Bailey was allowed access to the net off the rush. They couldn’t hold the lead after Eichel dangled Ben Hutton and then scored on a shot Jacob Markstrom should’ve stopped. They gave up yet another short-handed goal, putting that number at six for the Sabres just eight games into the season.

Instead, Buffalo spent most of the night in its own end, giving up 37 shots through two periods. Hard to pin this, in any way, on goalie Chad Johnson.

“First of all, I thought we didn’t defend well and close quick enough in our defensive zone. We were a little bit slow there tonight. We need to be more aggressive and on the puck,” said head coach Phil Housley after the game.

While the Sabres were badly outplayed, one of the deciding moments in this game was a controversial video review in the second period. Vancouver took the lead on a goal from Daniel Sedin, although Housley challenged for a potential offside after it looked like Jake Virtanen didn’t have control of the puck as he entered the zone.

The linesmen looked over the play for a lengthy review before officials came to the conclusion that Virtanen did have control of the puck as he broke in over the blue line. The goal stood and the Canucks controlled the remainder of the game.

“I disagree with the call, totally,” said Housley. “In my opinion, he knocks the puck out of the air. He never has possession.

“But I call that 10 out of 10 times offside and I would continue to challenge that again.”

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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The Buzzer: Milestone night in Vegas, Johnson backstops Sabres to first win

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Player of the night: Malcolm Subban, Vegas Golden Knights

There were a few candidates tonight, particularly from the Vegas Golden Knights victory over the Boston Bruins. Alex Tuch and Vadim Shipachyov both made their debuts for the expansion team and both scored their first career NHL goals.

Vegas goalie Malcolm Subban also recorded his first career NHL win, stopping 21 of 22 shots faced as the Golden Knights held on in the end for a 3-1 victory. Subban was solid. He made a difficult stop in close off Brad Marchand and helped defeat the team that put him on waivers only two weeks ago.

“It’s a great feeling,” said Subban, per NHL.com. “I made a lot of friends [in Boston], played with a lot of great teammates and (had) a great coaching staff. I’m just happy to get the win.”

Boston selected Subban in the first round of the 2012 draft, but he spent the vast majority of his time in the American Hockey League. Putting Subban on waivers prior to the start of this season was a risk the Bruins were well aware of, and he was claimed by the Golden Knights. He started Sunday, while Marc-Andre Fleury was placed on injured reserve.

Highlight of the night:

The Buffalo Sabres finally have their first win of the season. They received a goal from recently recalled forward Justin Bailey and a 25-save performance from Chad Johnson. He had the glove working in this one, but arguably his best save of the night was this pad stop on Nick Ritchie to keep his team in the lead, at least at the time, during the second period. The angle from behind the net shows just how close this puck came to going in, but Johnson managed to trap it right against the post before the mayhem ensued.

Factoid of the night:

Cam Fowler, selected 12th overall by the Anaheim Ducks in 2010 and still only 25 years of age, achieved a career milestone and made franchise history on Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres.

Scores:

Buffalo 3, Anaheim 1

L.A. 3 – NY Islanders 2

Vegas 3, Boston 1

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Jack Eichel is ‘sick of losing,’ so what can the Sabres do?

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If you look at the Buffalo Sabres’ 0-3-1 record and blast Jack Eichel‘s $10 million extension,* then you might be part of what’s making the rising star so frustrated.

After Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks, Eichel had enough, as the Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington reports.

Harrington gets it right in describing Eichel’s comments as a mic drop.

Jack and little else

Commend Eichel for absorbing some of the blame, but consider this: his line with Jason Pominville and Evander Kane have scored all nine of the Sabres’ goals so far this season. (Eichel has a goal and four assists, Kane scored four goals and two assists, and Pominville has four goals plus a helper.)

It’s pretty easy to see that the Sabres need more from the likes of Ryan O'Reilly, who has an assist and is doing well in the dot … but that’s about it. He’s suffering from uncharacteristically bad possession stats and hasn’t scored a goal despite firing nine SOG in four games.

Ultimately, as bad as having one line scoring all nine of your goals might be, the 18 goals allowed stand as the bigger concern.

Defensive lapses

It’s just four games, but the Sabres are getting absolutely shellacked from a puck possession standpoint, with the fourth-worst Corsi For rating standing as just one example. If that’s too sophisticated for you, Buffalo’s been on the wrong side of the shots battle in three of four contests.

To some extent, the Sabres might be making some missteps in assessing who to put on the ice.

For example: Rasmus Ristolainen probably isn’t the guy you want playing 26+ minutes per night, far and away the most of any Sabres skater so far. Even with an average of 4:35 power-play TOI, he’s their even-strength leader, too.

Ristolainen has been criticized heavily by the fancy stats community, and his 2016-17 HERO chart provides a Halloween-worthy snapshot of why:

via Dom Galamini

Check out that miniature shot suppression bar … yikes.

Ristolainen shouldn’t be singled out as the only struggling Sabres player, though. His current numbers look a lot better than those of addition Marco Scandella, who is just under siege so far to start his Buffalo days.

Looking through the team, Canadiens castoff Nathan Beaulieu might be part of the solution, although he’s already pressed into a lot of action averaging 20 minutes per night. Sabres fans might also have to stomach the occasional gaffe; hopefully most won’t be as egregious as this “assist” to John Tavares:

With Dmitry Kulikov and Cody Franson out of town in favor of Beaulieu and Scandella, it remains to be seen if Buffalo will make that much of an improvement on defense.

If management can add help, that would be great, but they’d need to get in line with, oh, 30 other NHL teams who are sniffing around for defensemen.

New coach

Which brings us to the most important would-be difference-maker: Phil Housley.

Let’s not forget that the Sabres have a new regime installed, and while there are times when teams ride fast and loose with that “new car smell,” there are other times when teams stall to begin.

Housley has the right idea in having an attack-minded approach; that seems to be both in keeping with the trends in the modern NHL and in acknowledging the makeup of this team. The key is to execute on such ideas.

Net gains?

Of course, to some extent, it hinges on having the Sabres’ goalies bail the defense out on occasions.

The good news in that regard is that both Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson have track records that indicate that better work will come. Especially since they both have the motivation of contract years to keep them alert.

At the moment, Lehner has a .901 save percentage, which essentially translates to “weak backup.” His career save percentage is .917, while he’s been even more impressive in Buffalo with a .921 average over 84 games.

Goalies can be fickle beasts, but it seems like a reasonable gamble to expect more from Lehner and Johnson (who has a solid career average of .914).

***

Long story short, the Sabres have a lot of work to do, and some problems seem easier to fix than others.

More than anything else, Sabres fans and Eichel alike might need to practice patience as best they can.

* – Which, you know, technically doesn’t kick in until next season.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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The Sabres are off to a pretty lousy start

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It would be difficult to imagine a worse start to the 2017-18 season for the Buffalo Sabres on the ice.

After dropping their first two games of the season, Jack Eichel called Monday’s game against New Jersey pretty much a must-win. Overstating the importance of an early October game? Probably. And that is always a dangerous thing because if you end up losing the game you end up looking kind of silly if you try to downplay it and then an early three-game losing streak turns into something much bigger.

But if you get absolutely dominated in that game and end up getting blown out on home ice to drop to 0-2-1 on the season?

Well, that makes things look just a little bit worse.

That is also what happened to the Sabres on Monday afternoon when they on the losing end of a 6-2 decision to the Devils.

It was not a particularly good showing by any part of the team.

Starting goalie Chad Johnson was benched after giving up six goals in two periods. The defense looked overmatched against the Devils forwards (this Nico Hischier assist was particularly impressive). The power play gave up yet another shorthanded goal, already the fourth one it has allowed in three games. So far this season the Sabres have a minus-two goal differential when their power play unit is on the ice. After only three games! There is no way to sugarcoat that. It is abysmal.

The Sabres took a pretty significant step backwards in their rebuild last season and it led to a total housecleaning in the front office and coaching staff. Getting off to a fast start under the new regime after such a down year would have been a nice way to help forget about how bad the 2016-17 season was, but the Sabres have given their fans the exact opposite. Now they have to embark on a four-game west coast road trip that will take them to San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Vegas. So the road is not really getting any easier from here.

The Devils, meanwhile, have looked mighty impressive so far this season. Taylor Hall didn’t score a goal on Monday but was arguably the best player on the ice, while rookie Jesper Bratt scored a pair of goals, as did offseason addition Marcus Johansson.

The Devils are now 2-0 on the season and have already scored 11 goals on the season. They actually look like a team that might have some potential to score a little bit this season.