Pace, pace, and more pace.
That is exactly what the Blue Jackets brought to the fore tonight at Nationwide Arena in a 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres. It was the kind of game that coach Scott Arniel envisioned his club playing on a nightly basis: high-tempo, aggressive forechecking hockey. The Sabres never looked comfortable in the game and were looking over their shoulders, anticipating oncoming pressure throughout the game.
Columbus got a power-play goal from center Jeff Carter midway through the first period to open the scoring. Carter took a rebound from Grant Clitsome’s bomb from the blue line and tucked it top corner over Ryan Miller – camped at the lip of the crease as he so often was with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Clitsome wasn’t done, either. He joined a rush led by Derek Dorsett and Dane Byers (more on him in a bit) and beat Miller for a 2-0 lead late in the opening period. All night long, the Blue Jackets kept coming in waves and kept the Sabres’ defense retreating for the puck.
“Our forechecking pressure created a lot of turnovers and a lot of opportunities,” Arniel said. “We really stymied them on the defensive side of the puck.
“We didn’t allow many quality chances – I thought we cleaned that up, and our specialty teams were pretty good.”
-Arniel wanted to see some different combinations for scoring lines, and tonight, he moved Derick Brassard from his familiar center position to the wing. He did not look out of sorts at all, setting up a handful of scoring chances and making up one-third of a potent trio with Ryan Johansen and R.J. Umberger. With regard to pace and speed, this line was the quickest of the night. Brassard said that some of the Buffalo players commented during the game about the tenacity and speed of their attack.
-Brassard is expected to remain on the wing at least through tomorrow night’s game at Washington, Arniel said after the game.
-Johansen knows that time is running short if he plans on making the jump to the NHL this season. He turned in another strong effort tonight, scoring a nifty goal on the rush in the second period that gave the Blue Jackets a 3-0 lead. The 19-year-old center came off the bench, went right into the slot and picked up the loose puck, then unleashed a wicked wrister inside the stick-side post of Miller.
-Said Johansen about the goal: “I think Goloubef either tried to drop it to me, or pass it out wider. I’m not too sure. It popped back to me, there was a little bit of a screen (in front of Miller) and I wanted to go low-blocker.”
-A name perhaps lost in the shuffle of those trying to break into the bottom of the Blue Jackets lineup is Dane Byers. The forward, traded from then re-acquired by the club last season, has been noticeable in each of his preseason games. He scored a goal and registered two assists tonight, earning honors as the game’s No. 1 star. Whether it’s been with his fists or his stick, Byers is trying to make an impression on the Blue Jackets coaches in his sixth professional season.
-Steve Mason was in control again, making 19 saves including a 10-bell beauty on Tyler Ennis in the second period. Buffalo’s Jason Pominville jumped on a Columbus turnover at the offensive blue line and darted in 2-on-1 with Ennis. He ladeled a backhand feed into the crease that Ennis connected with, but was rejected by Mason’s left pad. It was his best stop of the night and perhaps best of the exhibition schedule.
Brassard, on the Blue Jackets’ pace of play tonight: “We pushed the pace really hard once we got up by two goals, and all of our lines were working hard. That’s what we want to do here – work for 60 minutes, and that’s how we’re going to win this year.”
Byers, on his showing thus far in camp: “My game in the AHL was kind of gritty, but I was also able to put up numbers. Coming here, I just want to play physical and if I do those things – like go hard to the net – points will come that way. I’ve been through enough camps that I’m able to put (the thought of upcoming cuts) on the backburner. It’s one day at a time here, and that’s how I look at it.”
Arniel, on Mason’s 19-save performance: “I think he seems like a guy that’s at ease with himself. He’s confident, and we just want to keep him that way. To me, (what Mason is doing well) has been what he’s doing with rebounds, is he big, is he square? Those are some of the things that have been pretty good so far.”
Arniel, on the team’s demeanor this season: “The biggest thing I’m seeing here right now is that competition is bringing out some pretty good play from different people. Our older guys are playing a little bit better and our younger players – like our guys on the backend tonight – did a great job. You’re getting people pushing each other, and it makes them play at a very high level.”
1. Dane Byers (CBJ) – 1 goal, 2 assist
2. Grant Clitsome (CBJ) – 1 goal, 1 assist
3. Steve Mason (CBJ) – 19 save and 1 GA