Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
There have been many times this season where the opposition has taken the play to the Sabres and have pumped a ton of rubber Buffalo’s way. Sometimes the Sabres keep a majority of the shots to the outside and at other times, like last night at the Columbus Blue Jackets, they’d allow the opposition an abundance of quality chances.
Last night it didn’t matter where the Jackets were shooting from, they weren’t getting anything past goalie Robin Lehner.
During the first period of the game the Sabres skaters played as if they were still recovering from a fun-loving, NBA All-Star experience. There was no jump in anybody’s step, yet because of Lehner and a lucky bounce, the Sabres left the Nationwide Arena ice with a 2-0 lead. And although the shot totals made it look like it was close, Columbus had many more prime scoring opportunities.
With Buffalo giving away the puck time and again (three egregious turnovers in the first 3:30 of the game,) Lehner was forced to come up big. He stopped two from in tight on a penalty kill early in the first, made a sparkling save on Cam Atkinson after a Zach Bogosian turnover in their zone and had another one later in the period. In all he turned away 14 Columbus shots.
Not to bore anyone with the details, but Lehner came up big close to a dozen times from early in the first until late in the third including three in the first minute of the third period with Columbus down by two and bringing the heat. In addition to that, he also dropped the gloves to defend Bogosian on a hit from behind that plastered his face into the boards.
Columbus’ Boone Jenner was the culprit on the play. Jenner’s not known as being a dirty player, but he put the hook on a prone Bogosian sending him awkwardly in to the boards. A scrum ensued and as the Jackets’ Jack Johnson was about to join the fray, an extremely angry Lehner forcibly stopped him and the two began to exchange punches. Lehner dropped the gloves but nothing further came of the situation. Except for the leaving the crease and roughing minors Lehner received.
“It’s the first time I had a goalie get four penalty minutes and the shutout,” said Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma after the game. Bylsma used the word “engaged” to describe his extremely intense starting goalie who was locked in all night. “[Lehner] may be the most engaged goalie I’ve ever been able to coach. He was certainly engaged tonight.”
Bylsma took the gentler approach in describing his goalie as Lehner actually more like a wild dog locked in on an intruder while defending his crease and his crest. He blasted Columbus’ Nick Foligno when his net-crashing ended up on Lehner’s lap and he went directly into the scrum to defend Bogosian on a play he called “disgusting.”
“To see a teammate go down like that…at the end of the day I just didn’t want [Johnson] to jump into the pile,” said Lehner post-game. “It’s a team game out there.”
Lehner, who’s locker room demeanor is a total 180 from his intensity on the ice, said he’s been seeing a trend by the Blue Jackets dating back to last season when he manned the crease in Ottawa. “I don’t know what it is. Last year when we played here there was a hit from behind ,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going on in this building. I mean two in one game (tonight?) I think it’s disgusting."
The other hit was on defenseman Cody Franson as the Jackets’ Scott Hartnell, who known to play on the edge, plastered him into the boards behind the Buffalo net. When Franson finally got up from the ice he left the game woozy and would not return.
That five minute major on Hartnell would set off a series of events that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen before.
With less than a minute gone in the Hartnell penalty, Buffalo d-man Rasmus Ristolainen was called for interference when he set a pick for Jack Eichel at the Columbus blueline. About :30 seconds later, Buffalo’s Marcus Foligno was sent to the box for a high stick. In 1:12 the Sabres went from a five-minute powerplay to a 4-on-3 penalty kill.
With less than a minute to play in the period, Ristolainen came out of the box and the teams played 4-on-4 hockey until Evander Kane was whistled for tripping right at the end of the period. When play resumed in the third, the Jackets were on a 4-on-3 for :08 seconds until Foligno came back on, they played 4-on-4 for 1:48 and after Hartnell returned to the ice the Jackets had a :04 second powerplay.
About the only thing you need to know is that those were some pretty dumb penalties that managed to keep Columbus hanging in there until Jamie McGinn scored his second of the game at the 7:16 mark and rookie Sam Reinhart pretty much iced the game just about mid-way through the third period as he put the Sabres up 4-0.
The night, however, belonged to Lehner.
There were a lot of questions as to why Buffalo GM Tim Murray sent a 2015 first round pick to Ottawa for the 6’5” 225 lb. native of Sweden, but some of them may have been answered in the 11 games since his return to the lineup. He’s always had the size but his agility has really shone through, especially last night, and maybe more importantly, he’s got the laser-beam intensity of a Tim Thomas or a Patrick Roy. And he’s the type of teammate you’d want in a dark alley.
Not a bad combination patrolling the crease.
David Legwand scored his fifth goal of the season last night on a 150-footer with the Sabres shorthanded.
Legwand took the puck in the Buffalo zone, circled while the teams were changing and sent a long shot who’s one-hopper scooted past Columbus goalie Joonas Korpisalo. Being a 17-year veteran who has scored over 200 NHL goals, he was playfully asked if he knew how to make the puck bounce like that. “No. No one knows how to make the puck bounce like that,” was his reply, “but it always has a chance if it’s on net.”
The cagey veteran has been a stalwart on the fourth line for Buffalo and anchors the top penalty unit up-front with Ryan O’Reilly. The Sabres shut down the Jackets on all six powerplay opportunities including the two 4-on-3’s. “It was crazy there all the different penalties, so it was good we killed all of them off,” he said.
The Sabres killed off all six penalties on the night and have not allowed a powerplay goal in three straight games (14 opportunities,) seven of the last eight games (25 of 27.) Buffalo cracked the NHL’s top-10 in PK’s with an 82.4% kill rate.
As mentioned, the entire Buffalo team got off to a horrendous start last night and it was the work of Lehner that bailed them out.
But he had some help.
Jake McCabe was the only d-man worth his salt in the first period as he broke up a breakaway on a Bogosian turnover barely a minute into the game then put the kibosh on a third shot from a scramble in the crease when he boxed out his man with the puck below them in the crease. He also saved a goal.
He was doing that all night on defense while consistently pinching in from the point on the weakside. It may have been one of the best performances of his young NHL career. McCabe logged 23:01 of ice-time, second only to Ristolainen’s game-high 24:01 and was tops on the kill (with Legwand) at 3:40 of shorthanded time. Although he didn’t hit the scoresheet, he was a plus-one and had Eichel not been, well, Eichel, and nailed down two assists , McCabe was most definitely third-star worthy.
Good to see him come back fully from a little slump he was in.
Finally, Eichel centered a pretty dominant line with McGinn on one side and Zemgus Girgensons on the other.
McGinn wound up scoring his 13th and 14th on the season with Girgensons getting the primary assist on the second. Both crashed the net hard while Eichel worked his magic with the puck. McGinn said he’s having some fun playing with Girgensons. “Definitely fun,” said McGinn. “He’s got a lot of speed, he plays physical and he makes the right play.
“I’m very impressed with him this year and how he plays,” said the eight-year veteran of Girgensons, “it’s good to see him get rewarded with the plus and the assist tonight. I’m enjoying it.