The Blue Jackets overcame a three-goal deficit to gut out a point at Madison Square Garden, and there’s no rest for the weary as the Jackets return home to play their fifth game in eight days. The Buffalo Sabres will make their first visit to Nationwide Arena this season, the first meeting between these teams since the first game of the season.
The Sabres dropped that first meeting and have struggled since, with a record of 17-38-5 that places them 30th overall in the league and five points in back of 29th place Edmonton. The Sabres’ 110 goals are the fewest in the league, their 202 against are the second-most in the league, and their -92 goal differential is the worst in the league by a margin of 27 goals.
GM Tim Murray kicked off the wheeling and dealing earlier this month when he shipped Tyler Myers, Drew Stafford, multiple prospects and a first-round pick to Winnipeg for Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, and a goaltending prospect. Kane will miss the remainder of the season after shoulder surgery but will be a huge addition to Buffalo next year when skating alongside whomever the Sabres take in the draft and perhaps top-prospect Sam Reinhart. Bogosian has already made an impact in the Sabres lineup, adding a physical edge for the back end.
Leading scorer Tyler Ennis has 15 goals and 33 points, while Matt Moulson is a three-time 30 goals scorer, though has only nine this year. Also with nine goals is power forward Chris Stewart, who has been rumored as a candidate to move at the deadline. All-Star forward Zemgus Girgensons and stud blue-liners Nikita Zadorov and Rasmus Ristolainen are bright spots on the roster, and big parts of the future in Buffalo.
On the season’s opening night, the Jackets and Sabres met at First Niagara Center in Buffalo, a 3-1 Columbus victory. The Blue Jackets out-shot the Sabres 40-22 on the night, but Jhonas Enroth (who has since been traded to Dallas) was up to the task in net. The game remained scoreless until midway through the second period when Jack Skille’s 2-on-1 wrister beat Enroth for the first goal of the season. Girgensons split the defense and answered for the Sabres just a minute and a half later.
With 7:15 remaining in the third period, the Jackets finally took the lead again on Cam Atkinson’s power play wrister from the left face-off dot. Artem Anisimov put the game on ice five minutes later with a high-zone one-timer that found a way through Enroth.
Marko Dano has certainly looked like a different player in his second go-around with Columbus this year. The rookie was recalled from AHL Springfield four games ago and has been a physical presence on a line with Nick Foligno and Artem Anisimov. Stronger and more confident, Dano is much more capable of controlling the pace of play, something that was clear on Sunday night against the Rangers. Dano registered a goal and an assist to give him three points in two games. Dano’s play has steadily improved all week, and on a line that is playing with more confidence everyday, we may get our best look so far at this first-round pick’s future potential in a Blue Jacket uniform.
Again, that line has been terrific for several games. And finally playing like a strong offensive force is center Artem Anisimov. Anisimov has had a difficult season having to work his way back from a concussion and a torn triceps muscle this year. He’s regained form over the last couple of weeks, but this road trip was easily fans’ best look at the old Artie. Anisimov took over Sunday night’s game against the Rangers, with his strength a glowing factor. Anisimov won a battle in the corner in the offensive zone and drove to the net, fighting through the crowd to the front of the net to beat Cam Talbot. He won another boards battle to set up David Savard for the game-tying goal. Even in Montreal, it was Anisimov lowering his shoulder to carry a defender to the net and ultimately set up Nick Folingo’s goal.
Any team can beat any other team on any given day. It’s a cliché, but it’s true and the Sabres have proven it. They may have only 17 wins on the season, but that total includes three wins over Montreal, victories over Tampa Bay and Los Angeles, and a three-goal third period comeback win over the Islanders. The Sabres have struggled mightily this season, but they still have talented NHL players and veterans on the roster and can jump on a team that takes them lightly or takes the foot off the gas pedal. The Blue Jackets came out with terrific road efforts in all four games of their road trip, and they must match that compete level and physical edge against a Sabres team full of players that are fighting for a role in Buffalo’s future plans.