In each game of the two games Columbus has played this year, the Blue Jackets found themselves in a 2-0 hole, then scored a goal to make it 2-1. But in both games, Columbus gave up the next goal and found itself on the wrong side of decisions, first a 4-1 setback in the opener vs. Toronto before Saturday night's 7-2 loss at Pittsburgh.
Afterward, captain Nick Foligno talked about how important patience - or a lack thereof - was in each loss. In both games, played against teams that boast elite offensive talent, he felt the Blue Jackets' good minutes were undone by pushing to get back in the game on the scoreboard, which led to mistakes that ended up in the back of the CBJ net.
"We had a lot of good minutes in there; I know it's weird to say that, but we did some good things," Foligno said after the loss to the Penguins. "It's the patience I talked about (after the loss to Toronto). It's understanding how we need to play and being OK with a 1-0 game or a 0-0 game for 59 minutes if it has to be that, and sticking with it. You can just see us, we're almost overanxious.
"Our patience is getting away from us right now, and it's costing us. It has to be rectified because we're doing so many good things throughout the game that are being negated by some poor decisions because we don't want to do the necessary thing at that moment. Sometimes it's not the prettiest thing, sometimes it's not the easiest thing, but it's the right thing to do. And we're not doing it consistently enough."
It might be hard for some to believe given the team is 0-2, but the captain has a point. The problem has not been so much how the team has played coming out of the gate in each game but how the team responded to being down in each, which was to stick to the game plan and keep battling rather than opening up and leaving the team susceptible in the back end.
"It gives us the opportunity to teach a little bit here," head coach John Tortorella said after the loss to the Penguins. "Our first 25, 30 minutes or so, I thought we were fast. I thought we were right there. They end up scoring a few goals and then we lose our composure as far as how we have to play.
"It just gives me a great opportunity to start teaching as far as what the patience of our game has to be."
Before the season began, Tortorella talked a few times about how the Blue Jackets had to play to be successful. The plan was to play sound defensively and limit the opposition's attack, partly to take any stress off of a pair of goaltenders who were occupying new roles this season.
The goal wasn't to sit back but to disrupt teams going through the neutral zone, causing turnovers that could lead to offense. Against the Penguins, the opposite happened; once the Blue Jackets got behind, the Pens were able to get through the neutral zone with speed time and time again, which led to a bevy of scoring chances on the rush for Pittsburgh - and in the end, seven goals against.
"I think we were just trying to be too offensive," defenseman Zach Werenski said. "We weren't playing team defense. We weren't staying above the puck. All the things we talk about, we kind of shied away from."
The game against Buffalo, then, gives the Blue Jackets an immediate chance to rectify the situation.
"It stings right now for our whole team," Foligno said. "We have to find a way to get out of this. We know that we have a huge one coming Monday."
Know the Foe
Buffalo is off to a 2-0 start that includes a pair of victories over Pittsburgh and New Jersey by a combined 10-3 score, including a league-best plus-6 margin at 5-on-5. The Sabres are also averaging 38.5 shots per game, tied for second in the NHL, and have converted on four of six power-play opportunities.
Thus far, the team is led in scoring by the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, Rasmus Dahlin, who has a goal and three assists for four points. Sam Reinhart, Victor Olofsson and Conor Sheary each have two goals in the two games, while Jack Eichel has a 1-2-3 line. In net, Carter Hutton has started both games, posting a 1.50 GAA and .939 save percentage while the Sabres have ceded just 24.5 shots against per game, best in the league.
It's the second straight season Buffalo has gotten off to a hot start, though last year's 17-6-2 start that included a 10-game winning streak eventually faded into a 33-39-10 finish that placed the team sixth in the Atlantic Division and well out of the playoff race.
Eichel led the team last year with a 28-54-82 line, while Reinhart had 65 points and Jeff Skinner had a team-best 40 goals. The team's top six scorers - the three above as well as Dahlin, defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen and Sheary - all return, while Hutton started 48 games and had a 3.00 GAA. Olofsson had 30 goals a season ago with Rochester of the AHL.
3 Keys to the Game
Killin' it: The Blue Jackets penalty kill was one of the NHL's best a season ago, but the Blue Jackets have allowed three goals against so far in two games. It's a small sample size, to be sure, but against a Buffalo team that has shined on the power play, the kill must get the job done. Chances against have to be limited as well.
Get going offensively: With three goals in two games, Columbus just hasn't scored enough to win games. The team has created some chances but must start to finish them.
Above the puck: It's the key descriptor of the way John Tortorella wanted his team to play this year, and it means being in position and then disrupting play, not chasing it. Too often, the Jackets did the latter against the Penguins.
Boone Jenner is one point away from 200 in his NHL and CBJ careers, while Oliver Bjorkstrand is three points from 100. … Columbus was 2-1-0 against the Sabres a season ago. Pierre-Luc Dubois had a 3-5-8 line in those three games. … Cam Atkinson has four goals and is plus-6 in his last six games vs. Buffalo. … Columbus was 23-11-1 after a loss last year and lost more than two games in a row just twice. … David Savard (40 career goals) is one tally away from tying the CBJ's all-time record for goals among defensemen (Rostislav Klesla, 2001-11). Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are each two away with 39 goals apiece.
(Subject to change)
Gustav Nyquist - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Emil Bemstrom
Alexandre Texier - Alexander Wennberg - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Jakob Lilja - Riley Nash - Sonny Milano
Ryan Murray - Seth Jones
Zach Werenski - David Savard
Vladislav Gavrikov - Markus Nutivaara
Joonas Korpisalo (confirmed starter)
Scratches: Josh Anderson (injured), Dean Kukan, Scott Harrington
Roster Report: Head coach John Tortorella said Monday morning that two changes will occur in the CBJ lineup. Milano will make his season debut, going in for Anderson, who is injured; the head coach said he is day-to-day. On defense, Nutivaara goes in for Kukan.