THURSDAY, 7 P.M.
FIRST NIAGARA CENTER
After splitting their first two games with a regulation loss and a shootout win, the Blue Jackets seek their first regulation win of the 2013-14 season as they embark on Game No. 3.
JACKETS 4, SABRES 3
With four days between their trip to Long Island and heading to Buffalo on Wednesday, the Blue Jackets should be well-rested and ready to go against a desperate Sabres club seeking its first win.
Those few extra days proved beneficial for injured Blue Jackets players Jared Boll and Fedor Tyutin, who both participated in workouts this week. Head coach Todd Richards said Wednesday that Boll is going to play against the Sabres, and Tyutin is aiming for a return on Saturday afternoon vs. Boston.
As for the Sabres, they'll have the full complement roster with the exception of Ville Leino, who is on injured reserve. Ryan Miller was deemed healthy by Sabres coach Ron Rolston on Wednesday and is available to play against the Blue Jackets, but in his stead, Jhonas Enroth has also played well despite Buffalo's goal-scoring woes.
UPDATE (10:50 AM): Jeff Rimer reports that Ryan Miller gets the start in goal for Buffalo tonight. He'll face Sergei Bobrovsky for the Blue Jackets.
MORNING SKATE UPDATE:
- The Blue Jackets' forward lines won't change much from Saturday's game against the Islanders. One adjustment: Boone Jenner comes out of the lineup in favor of Boll, who will skate on right wing with Letestu at center and MacKenzie on left side.
- Tim Erixon is a healthy scratch for the third straight game. David Savard and Nikita Nikitin are confirmed as the third pairing.
- Tyutin continues to be on the mend, per Todd Richards. He skated this morning with the team and is expected to skate tomorrow, as well. If all goes well he's expected back in the lineup on Saturday against the Bruins.
- What does Sabres coach Ron Rolston expect from the Blue Jackets? "We expect them to come out flying." Despite having four days off between games, the Buffalo coach is prepared for the Blue Jackets to bring their best tonight.
- Columbus is expecting exactly that from the Sabres, who, at 0-3-1, are going to be a desperate and aggressive club tonight. With two lines that can score (but have been struggling to do so), the Sabres are pressing but they can make an impact.
- Letestu said he's looking forward to having Boll join his line, and having his presence back in the lineup. "I expect him to be a contributing member of the lineup right off the bat," Letestu said. "When you're on the ice, just play hockey. The three of us seem to play well together as far as how our games mesh. The one thing we can definitely bring is energy."
- An excited Boll on his return: "It's exciting. It was a long summer, and then having to miss the first couple of games was tough to watch. I was just waiting until I was healthy, and I feel really good right now and I'm excited to get going."
- And Boll on tonight's opponent: "They're a desperate team; they're a good team that's been on the wrong end of some games. We know they're going to come out hard. They want to get that (first) win, so we have to be ready for their best effort. You always want to be ready to go, especially on the road. We want to jump on them fast and play our game."
JODY SHELLEY'S TAKE:
"You’re coming into a bee hive in a sense…the Sabres have yet to win a game and they’ll be revved up. They let one slip away the other night vs. Tampa at home, too. There’s one approach and that’s to worry about your own business. The Blue Jackets can’t take the Sabres lightly, it’s that simple. We all know how a desperate team feels. This is a game that means a lot to both sides. The Jackets have to get on their game immediately; the Sabres are looking for anything to feel good about at this point. I think it’s going to be a great game and an exciting one."
With four days off, the Blue Jackets took advantage of the extra time by recovering from a few minor injuries, running up-tempo drills to adjust to the pace of the regular season and working more on special teams units. The power play, currently operating at 40 percent (2-for-5 in two games), has made a difference in both games but Richards is looking for more from his top guys.
Speaking of special teams, the Sabres penalty kill had been perfect until allowing a power-play goal to Tampa's Teddy Purcell on Tuesday night. It proved to be the tipping point of the game as the Lightning took control after tying it at 2-2 and eventually, winning in overtime on an Alex Killorn goal.
The Blue Jackets will pose the biggest challenge to the Sabres' penalty killing unit so far this year, as they are second in the NHL in that department with a 40 percent conversion rate (but yes, it's early). On the other end of things, their power play has started to heat up; the Sabres were o-fer on the power play prior to Tuesday, and broke through with a pair of PPG's from Cody Hodgson and newcomer Jamie McBain. Expect special teams to play a factor in Thursday night's game--the Blue Jackets are looking to extend their power play goal streak to three games and keep the good vibes rolling on the advantage.
After starting the season 0-3-1, the Sabres are searching for answers. They have struggled to score goals but have received quality goaltending from Miller and Enroth, so most of their issues remain up front. Frustration is setting in, but like coaches say, Rolston wants his players to channel that frustration into a better start on home ice. The Blue Jackets can't wade into this game; they've had a long layoff for the second time in two weeks, making it paramount that they get themselves into the game before the Sabres dictate the tempo.
Atkinson - Dubinsky - Gaborik
Calvert - Anisimov - Comeau
Foligno - Johansen - Umberger
Letestu - MacKenzie - Boll
Johnson - Prout
Murray - Wisniewski
Nikitin - Savard