The Buffalo Sabres played well tonight, but Robin Lehner was unquestionably their best player.
It’s been a difficult first season in Buffalo for Lehner, who was acquired this summer in a trade with the Ottawa Senators, but he’s healthy now and appears to be finding form.
He was spectacular tonight in a 4-0 win for the Sabres, marking the first regulation loss by the Blue Jackets on home ice in nearly a month. Columbus had a strong push in the first period, was outplayed in the second period and couldn’t get anything going in the third, and it added up to a disappointing result in a game where they certainly had chances.
Their power play came up empty on six attempts, their missed chances came back to haunt them, and a lack of sustained offense hindered them from clawing back into the game.
“Our power play stunk and our checking around the net (struggled),” John Tortorella said. “I think we out-chanced them. We weren’t scoring on (Lehner) tonight – he was playing that well. They were the better team…especially offensively. We developed 20-plus scoring chances on them and we couldn’t score."
McGinn opened the scoring with his first of two goals with 5:05 left in the first period, a goal not unlike those the Blue Jackets are trying to score more of.
He was camped atop Joonas Korpisalo’s crease and in prime position to bury a rebound off a shot from Jack Eichel, giving Buffalo a 1-0 lead after it survived an opening flurry by the Blue Jackets.
The Sabres took a 2-0 lead on a weird, unfortunate 150-foot shot that fooled Korpisalo on a wicked bounce right in front of him. David Legwand collected the puck in his own end while his team regrouped shorthanded, flipped a lob shot in on Korpisalo and got a fortunate break when it short-hopped 10 feet in front of the goal and then into the net.
“The second goal…(it was) a weird bounce, but that should never go in,” Korpisalo said.
Those things happen – but the Blue Jackets couldn’t pick up their goaltender after falling behind 2-0.
Lehner made 38 saves, some of them in highlight-reel style, but missed opportunities were the story behind this result for Columbus.
“You could see in the first period, it was one of those games,” Tortorella said. “(Lehner) was big, he looked big in the net. We had some grade-A chances when we could get back involved in that game. He played very well.”
The game got out of hand with a couple of major penalties, a handful of tussles and skirmishes and at one point, Lehner seemed ready to go with Jack Johnson.
For Columbus, though, that was the least of concerns; they yielded two third-period goals when they needed two of their own. They needed to capitalize when the Sabres’ lack of discipline turned a five-minute major power play for Buffalo into a 4-on-4 and then power play for the Blue Jackets with a pair of needless penalties.
It just didn’t happen tonight.
“I thought our power play made some good plays in the latter part of the game, but we need to score early on our power play to gain momentum and we’re not doing that,” Tortorella said. “I thought we had some push as far as creating scoring chances, but I don’t think we helped (Korpisalo) around our blue. We didn’t play well enough in front of him.”