CLINTON, NEW YORK - If you include standing room only, the locals of Clinton, N.Y., a town with a population under 2,000, say their community rink can hold about 2,600 fans. Tuesday night, Clinton Arena was filled to capacity as the Buffalo Sabres and Columbus Blue Jackets played a preseason game in the 64-year-old building as part of the fourth annual Kraft Hockeyville USA.
Casey Nelson and Sam Reinhart scored for Buffalo, but three power-play goals against ultimately led to a 4-2 Blue Jackets victory. The Sabres are now 2-3-0 in the preseason after winning their first two contests.
"Just being able to do this, it's a unique experience," Sabres forward Jack Eichel said. "Obviously, it's really cool for the people of Clinton. For us as a Western New York team, it's cool to be able to come here and play in front of them. They were excited to have us here. They filled the stands.
"It's unfortunate that we lost. The overall experience, there was a lot to take from it."
Video: Panarin, Korpisalo lead Jackets past Sabres, 4-2
Sabres coach Phil Housley liked the way his team competed and battled, but also mentioned that it's imperative that they learn from some of the mistakes that let this game slip away.
"We gave up two goals on the PK where we had total possession of the puck, right?," Housley said. "...It's unfortunate because those are things you've got to learn. You've got to be smart, especially when you're on the PK.
"…You can take one, but two and three, you can't give up those goals. That was the difference tonight."
Video: Blue Jackets, Sabres meet fans before game in Clinton
The day was highlighted not only by the preseason game, but also a red carpet experience where fans stood in the rain to wait for autographs from players and an open morning skate that had an electric energy thanks to the hundreds of kids who filled the seats .
However, Clinton Arena, which was awarded $150,000 for upgrades thanks to winning an online vote, certainly isn't without its quirks and charms. Housley was quick to point one out after the game.
"I don't know how many locker rooms have a window in it, but we had windows in our locker room," he said with a smile. "It brought back a flashback from the past and I just want to thank the Clinton community for putting on a great show here."
Video: CBJ@BUF: Clinton presented with Hockeyville trophy
The Sabres took a 1-0 lead 1:13 into the second period, which opened a period that produced four goals.
Video: CBJ@BUF: Nelson buries one-timer to open scoring
Patrik Berglund skated up the middle of the ice and dropped it to Alexander Nylander inside the zone. Nylander then dished it to Nelson along the left halfwall and he one-timed the tough angle shot past Korpisalo.
Then 7:24 into the period, the Blue Jackets tied it up on the power play when Michael Prapavessis capitalized on a soft clear and threaded a stretch pass down the seam to Anthony Duclair, who deked around Wedgewood to score.
Video: CBJ@BUF: Reinhart pots Eichel's amazing pass
The Sabres responded quickly -1:52 later - with a power-play goal of their own. Jack Eichel collected a pass from Rasmus Dahlin, skated down the left wing and feathered backhand pass through the slot to Reinhart, who knocked it in for his first goal of the preseason.
But with 4:25 left Adam Clendening was the benefactor of some quick passing in the Sabres zone that allowed them to slip around the Buffalo defense and get one by Wedgewood to tie the game once again.
Artemi Panarin gave Columbus the lead on the power play 6:31 into the third and they would not relinquish it. Buffalo almost answered back on the next shift, but Jake McCabe's shot hit the crossbar.
That chance was one of many for the line of Eichel, Reinhart and Jeff Skinner.
"We've had a lot of chances," Eichel said. "Even tonight, I had a few in front of the net. Skins had a couple, Reino the same. We're getting our chances. It's good. There's definitely some things I want to clean up. We can be a little cleaner on our possession in-zone.
"But we've only played together for five or so periods. It's important over the next week, we just keep working in practice. Make sure we're making the most of every rep we get together, try to build off what we've done and continue to build chemistry."
The line was assembled during Saturday night's preseason game against Toronto. It was Reinhart's first game since rejoining the team after signing a new contract, and while they didn't start the game together, they did enough good things (including a goal from Skinner) for Housley to want to see more. They practiced together on Monday and were out for the opening faceoff against Columbus.
"I liked the way we responded in the third after different circumstances went down," Reinhart said. "I liked our compete and we did start creating more."
Kevin Stenlund made it 4-2 with 11:05 left in regulation. Joonas Korpisalo played a strong game in the net for Columbus.
Buffalo takes on the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena. They'll hold a morning skate in Buffalo before flying out to Pittsburgh (full coverage here on Sabres.com, of course). The game can be heard live on WGR 550 with Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray on the call once again.
The Sabres will close out the preseason on Friday in Oshawa, Ont. against the New York Islanders. That game will also be broadcast on radio only.
The season begins on Oct. 4 at home against the Boston Bruins, which kicks off a four-game homestand to open 2018-19.