Monday, April 1, 2019

Olofsson scores first NHL goal. Jackets in town with a lot on the line

Congratulations to winger Victor Olofsson scored his first NHL goal last night in a 5-1 loss against the NY Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. The 23 yr. old native of Sweden earned the nickname "Goalofsson" for his work in Rochester this season as his 27 goals for the Americans led the team before his call-up two games ago. Forward C.J. Smith racked up two goals in Binghamton last night to tie Olofsson for the team lead.

Olofsson's goal came late in the third period with the Sabres down 5-0 and on the powerplay. Buffalo captain Jack Eichel kept the puck from leaving the Islanders zone and whipped a cross-ice pass to Olofsson who was all alone at the point. After waiting a bit for Sam Reinhart to position himself for a screen, Olofsson took a couple of steps in and sent a wrister far side to break the shutout bid by former Sabres goalie Robin Lehner.

That was all the good news for the Sabres last night as their plummet to the bottom part of the league continues. After last night's loss Buffalo is on record as losing six in a row (0-5-1,) are 1-11-2 in their last 13 games and are only 4-17-3 since a three-game point-streak in early February. They're presently 27th in the league only two points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings.

Buffalo head coach Phil Housley, who's been at a loss for months, came up with this in front of the gathered media post-game "[The Islanders] are a bigger team, that's why they're in the playoffs and we're in the position we're in."

Or, one might say that the team quit on their coach. It may have taken a while for Buffalo GM Jason Botterill and owner Terry Pegula to see it. Housley might not want to admit it, at least publicly and Eichel might continue to deny it while saying last night, "We're not quitting on Phil, we're not quitting on each other. We're just not bringing it." 

But not bringing it, as their record through all of March and the latter half of February might indicate, is pretty much quitting. 

Eichel went on to say that they were playing a hockey team in the Islanders that was "trying to get into the playoffs." True, the Islanders were not in the playoffs but were on the cusp and were virtually assured of making it in unless they went pointless in their final games and three other teams ran the table. Perhaps Eichel was hinting that they were playing a team that had some desperation in their game with a lot on the line and if they think the Islanders were desperate, then they're in for an even rougher time with the Columbus Blue Jackets in town this evening.

The Jackets have battled their way into the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Nothing has been easy for them this season as they've been in and around that same spot much of the time. Making matters worse for Columbus is the pending UFA status of winger Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen was faced with a extremely difficult situation at the NHL Trade Deadline knowing with almost certainty that the two players will be walking at the end of the season. When it became clear that trading either or both wouldn't be happening, Kekalainen shifted gears and bolstered his lineup instead.

Columbus went big in the days leading up to and including the deadline by acquiring top-six center Matt Duchene and adding his Ottawa Senators teammate Ryan Dzingel. They also acquired depth with the acquisition of NY Rangers defenseman Adam McQuaid and New Jersey Devils back up goalie Keith Kinkaid. In all Kekalainen sent seven draft picks including two first round picks (one of them conditional) and two second round picks along with four players (one of whom was received from the Sens then shipped to NY) for a playoff push.

The Jackets came out of the deadline with a 5-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins and found themselves clinging to third place in the Metropolitan Division and including that loss, came out of the trade deadline with a 3-5-0 record, barely clinging to a playoff spot. After righting the ship the Blue Jackets are in a three-way battle for the final two playoffs spots. The Carolina Hurricanes have 93 points while both Columbus and the Montreal Canadiens have 92 points with the Habs having played one more game. Not too far out of reach is the Pittsburgh who sit third in the Metropolitan Division. The 'Canes take on the Pens today while Columbus is at Buffalo. 

If Housley thought the Islanders were big, the Jackets are just as big, if not bigger. And if Eichel thought the Islanders were desperate, this Jackets team has even more to play for.

Game time is 6 pm.

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