COLUMBUS - Being a goalie himself, Anders Nilsson has no problem identifying a good night in net. All he could do on Tuesday was tip his hat to Sergei Bobrovsky.
Bobrovsky, coming off of a shutout against Philadelphia in his last game, made 41 saves in an effort that proved to be the difference in a 3-1 victory for the Columbus Blue Jackets over the Buffalo Sabres at Nationwide Arena.
"Honestly, I think we were the better team today," Nilsson said. "We deserved to win but Bobrovsky played great for them."
Video: BUF Recap: Sabres' offense halts in loss to Jackets
Despite playing without Kyle Okposo, who missed the game with an illness, and Sam Reinhart, who dressed but did not play after violating a team policy (more on that below), the Sabres were able to outshoot the Blue Jackets 42-29. The only time they were able to beat Bobrovsky was on a one-time shot from Evan Rodrigues on a power play in the second period.
The Blue Jackets, meanwhile, got all of their offense during a three-minute stretch in which they controlled the pace of play late in the first period. Kyle Quincey opened the scoring with 5:13 left in the period, intercepting a clearing attempt at the blue line and beating Nilsson with a shot through traffic. Cam Atkinson extended the Columbus lead to 2-0 when he lifted a puck over Nilsson's shoulder 2:59 later.
Rodrigues' goal cut that lead in half with 9:07 still left to play in the second, but every attempt to tie the game from that point on was either stifled by Bobrovsky or by a play in front of the net. There were extended zone times, a 2-on-1 rush between Evander Kane and Jack Eichel, a near breakaway for Ryan O'Reilly - but none of it led to goals.
Both Dan Bylsma and Ryan O'Reilly suggested that, while Bobrovsky did have a good night, the Sabres could have done more at the net-front to impair his vision and make life hard for the Columbus goalie.
"Towards the end there I thought we were dominating, we hemmed them in a bunch of times," O'Reilly said. "It's just, you've got to find a way. When the passes aren't perfect and you find a way to get it into the O-zone, the net presence, it's big. We got it back to the point a lot and guys were moving, it's just competing in front of the net and they did a good job of boxing us out."
Columbus earned its final goal when Brandon Saad scored into an empty net with 1:05 remaining.
The Sabres had entered the night with wins in four of their last five games, including the last two. They accomplished, for the most part, what they were trying to do against the Blue Jackets: get pucks behind the defense, make good decisions and limit the Columbus transition game.
Ultimately, the difference proved to be the man in net.
"We had a number of opportunities," Bylsma said. "Just couldn't crack it."
Reinhart sits for violating team policy
Reinhart dressed for the game, but remained on the bench for its entirety as discipline for violating a team policy early in the day, Bylsma said. Sabres captain Brian Gionta said afterward that he agreed with the decision.
"It's tough, but we're trying to build something here and we're trying to maintain a culture," Gionta said. "By no means was it something huge, but it's something that was against what we're trying to get to and be as a team so obviously it unfolded like it did."
Both Bylsma and Gionta reiterated that the discipline needed to be a lesson not just for Reinhart, but for the team as a whole.
"It's keeping everybody to the same level. That's what we want to do. We're building a culture here so everybody needs to learn from it," Gionta said. "He's a great kid. He's going to learn from it and we'll be better as a group for it."
Power play adds another
The Sabres came into the game with four power-play goals in their last two games, and the League's top power play came through yet again in the second period when Rodrigues scored with a one-time shot on a crossing feed from O'Reilly.
Video: BUF@CBJ: Rodrigues finishes O'Reilly's pass for PPG
With a 1-for-2 night, the Sabres are 7-for-10 on the power play in their last five games.
"I think it's really high," Rodrigues said when asked about the team's confidence with the extra man. "There's guys that can make some plays, I mean O'Reilly made a hell of a pass on the goal. And getting the puck to the net I think, for the portion that I've been up at least, they never try to be too cute or too fancy. They make the pass that needs to be made early on and then they get pucks to the net and that's when you have success."
The Sabres have four days between now and their next game, at home on Sunday afternoon against the New York Islanders. It will be the rubber match of the season series, with the home team having won both of the first two matchups.
It will be Family Appreciation Day at KeyBank Center, which begins with a pregame party in Tops Alumni Plaza at 1 p.m. Discounted tickets and family packs are available for the game, and you can find more information here.
If you can't make it downtown, coverage on Sunday begins at 2:30 p.m. with the Tops Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops between the Sabres and Islanders at 3 p.m.