Gameday Preview: Blue Jackets vs. Sabres
Columbus finishes the 2022-23 season with a rescheduled contest tonight against Buffalo at Nationwideby Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com
This is the end. The Blue Jackets' 2022-23 season concludes tonight with a rescheduled game against Buffalo. This one was originally set for Dec. 27, but a winter storm that covered Buffalo with feet of snow prevented the Sabres from traveling to Columbus. Now, two teams that have fallen short of the postseason will finish the campaign against one another.
What They're Saying
Last night, the Blue Jackets got goals from Andrew Peeke, Emil Bemstrom and Johnny Gaudreau, plus a yeoman's effort from veteran Michael Hutchinson in making 34 saves, to post a 3-2 overtime victory over rival Pittsburgh at Nationwide Arena.
But in reality, the night was about Tyler Angle, Samuel Knazko, Mikael Pyyhtia and Stanislav Svozil. The four players made their NHL debuts for the Blue Jackets, and their energy was palpable in Columbus' come-from-behind victory.
"We were kind of trying to figure out how to let them do their lap before the game," Hutchinson joked. "Do we let them do their own individual lap or do we come out at 12 minutes after they skated around for a bit? The guys were having fun with it. Right from the beginning of morning skate, there was that energy. We were excited, and it was fun to go out there and give those guys a good memory for their first game."
The win over Pittsburgh was no fluke, either. While the Penguins were likely short on spirit after they found out Wednesday night that their season would not extend into the playoffs for the first time in 16 seasons, the Blue Jackets still showed up with a young lineup and performed well.
Stats across the board were mostly even or perhaps even tilted toward the Jackets, such as the team's edge in shot attempts (54-50) and high-danger chances (15-12) at 5-on-5. And in the end, Gaudreau's OT winner made for a memorable night in Nationwide Arena.
"That game, those guys will never forget," head coach Brad Larsen said of the quartet of players making their debuts. "It's a special moment to put a jersey on for the first time in the NHL, and there's four of them in the lineup tonight. I think they all showed well. They're excited. You can feel it on the bench. It was great to see."
Know The Foe: Buffalo Sabres
Head coach: Don Granato (Third season)
Season Stats: Goals per game: 3.55 (4th) | Scoring defense: 3.65 (27th) | PP: 23.5 percent (8th) | PK: 73.0 percent (28th)
The narrative: The Sabres have fallen just short of their first postseason berth since 2011, as they were officially eliminated by Tuesday night's loss at New Jersey. Still, it was a season of massive gains in Buffalo, as the Sabres have reached the 40-win mark for the first time since that last postseason appearance. With a young core burgeoning with exciting potential stars, Buffalo will likely be a force to be reckoned with in upcoming seasons assuming the team can make gains on the defensive front.
2022-23 leaders: Tage Thompson has had an incredible season, as the 25-year-old has launched himself into superstar status by placing sixth in the NHL with 47 tallies among his 94 points. Granato said the banged-up Thompson will not play tonight, though, and other Sabres might be held out as well after the team won its home finale last night over Ottawa in overtime.
Alex Tuch (35-43-78), Jeff Skinner (34-45-79) and Norris contender Rasmus Dahlin (15-58-73) follow Thompson on the scoring charts, while Dylan Cozens (31 goals, 67 points), Jack Quinn (14 goals), Owen Power (35 points), John-Jason Peterka (32 points) and Peyton Krebs (25 points) are all 22 or younger and have big potential.
The Sabres have used four different goalies this season, including 21-year-old Devon Levi, who starred at Northeastern University and has been solid in his first six games (4-2-0/3.09/.901) since signing a pro contract. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, 23, leads the team with 32 starts and is 17-11-4 with a 3.61 GAA and .891 save percentage.
What's new: The addition of Levi could be huge for the Sabres going forward, as he immediately started crucial games down the stretch and flashed quite a bit of potential. Buffalo gave it a good effort at the end of the season, going 7-1-1 before the nail-in-the-coffin loss to the Devils earlier this week. With former Columbus Chill players Granato and Jason Christie in charge, this should be a fun team to watch going forward.
Trending: The teams have split the series this year, with Columbus' responding to the Sabres' 9-4 victory in Nationwide Arena on Dec. 7 with a 5-3 victory in Buffalo on Feb. 28. The Blue Jackets have had success against the Sabres before this season, going 10-3-2 in the previous 15 contests before this year.
Former CBJ: None
3 Keys to the Game
Finish strong: There's no reason to leave anything in the tank after this one.
Youthful energy: The Blue Jackets seemed to thrive on the presence of the four newcomers last night; can they back that up a second night in a row?
Fill up the net: Buffalo is one of the top scoring teams in the NHL but also one of the leakiest defensively. It could make for an entertaining finale.
3 Stats to Know
- Gaudreau's overtime winner was his third as a Blue Jacket, second most in a season for a CBJ player in team history. He now has a 20-53-73 line, good for fourth in assists and a tie for fifth in points in franchise single-season annals. He has 20 multipoint games on the year, has posted 5-13-18 in his last 17 games, and his OT winner last night clinched his sixth career 20-goal season.
- Kirill Marchenko has 21 goals and four assists on the season, making him the only CBJ player in history to score at least 15 times in a season with less than 10 assists. Only one player in the NHL's modern era -- Florida's Brandon Pirri, with 22-2-24 in 2014-15 -- has finished a season with at least 20 goals and only four assists, per Hockey Reference.
- Milestone watch: So far, 11 Jackets have made their NHL debuts this season, while the team's all-time register is up to 333 players. … Marchenko passed Pierre-Luc Dubois' CBJ rookie record with his 21st goal of the season April 2.
Columbus' sellout crowd last night was its 13th of the year in Nationwide Arena and seventh in the last eight home games. … Liam Foudy has seven goals in 26 games since netting his first NHL tally. … Jack Roslovic has eight points (4-4-8) in the last 10 games. … Marchenko's 21 goals are third in the league among rookie goal scorers, three behind Wyatt Johnston of Dallas and Matty Beniers of Seattle. … Kent Johnson's 16-24-40 line places him in the top 10 in team history among rookies in goals (tied for fourth), assists (fourth) and points (third). He ranks sixth in the NHL in goals and is fifth in points among rookies. … Columbus is first in the NHL in goals among rookies with 54 and second to Montreal in points with 118. All are franchise records. … Andrew Peeke, who ranks third in the NHL in blocked shots with 195, has surpassed Ryan Murray (171 in 2015-16) for the most blocked shots in a single season in club history (since 2005-06).
This Day in CBJ History
April 14, 2019: The Blue Jackets open up a 3-0 lead against Tampa Bay in the first round of a Stanley Cup Playoffs series with a 3-1 victory in Nationwide Arena. Matt Duchene and Oliver Bjorkstrand score in the second period before Cam Atkinson's empty-net goal clinches the victory.
Projected Lineup (subject to change)
Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Kuraly - Kirill Marchenko
Kent Johnson - Jack Roslovic - Liam Foudy
Joona Luoto - Hunter McKown - Emil Bemstrom
Tyler Angle - Mikael Pyythia
Gavin Bayreuther - Andrew Peeke
Stanislav Svozil - Adam Boqvist
Tim Berni - Billy Sweezey
Scratches: Boone Jenner (upper body); Eric Robinson (upper body); Lane Pederson (upper body); Patrik Laine (triceps strain); Nick Blankenburg (ankle); Mathieu Olivier (lower leg bone bruise); Erik Gudbranson (separated shoulder); Elvis Merzlikins (lower body)
Injured reserve: Jake Bean (shoulder); Zach Werenski (shoulder surgery); Justin Danforth (shoulder)
Roster Report: The Blue Jackets did not hold a morning skate, but it appears the team got through Thursday night's game unscathed, so they will skate the same 18 players (11 forwards, seven defensemen) tonight. Gillies will get the start in net.