Last night, Columbus squared off against the Buffalo Sabres in what I would consider a ‘should win’ game. The Sabres, prior to the game, sat at the bottom of the Atlantic Division with three losses as well as an overtime loss, with what appears to be a rebuild in full swing. For Columbus, it continues their new-era Eastern Conference experience, playing teams closer to home on a more regular basis.
Columbus struck early off the stick of Marian Gaborik. A fantastic shot from the top of the circles rung off the crossbar and fell straight to the ice, where the ever speedy Cam Atkinson buried the rebound for a 1-0 lead. Certainly some puck luck that it did not ricochet towards the boards, but on the other hand, half an inch lower and it would have been a clear goal for Gaborik.
For much of the first period, Columbus was able to dictate pace and owned much of the possession. The lone hiccup came around a midway charge from Buffalo that led to a Vanek goal. As the first wore on, a fortunate goal from Nick Foligno (his second ‘off a body’ goal of the season) and a fantastic passing play by Atkinson and the finish by Gaborik sent Columbus into the dressing room with a 3-1 lead.
The second period was owned by Columbus. While the guys are still trying to find the glue that keeps the puck on their stick, shots were 15-8 in their favour, and the lone goal came from Dubinsky off a solid point shot through traffic by Savard. I don’t think Columbus will play too many teams this year that give them as much space as Buffalo did last night, but it was great to see them improve on their puck skills and let their talent bleed through onto the ice a bit.
What concerned me was late in the second along with the third period. Three goal leads are great to have in this league, but as we have seen so many times before, they can vanish quickly. What Columbus did, while still dominating, was play the role of chameleon. Their play dipped a bit closer to Buffalo, slowing down in pace, getting a bit lazy on the puck; it was something I hope they can shake off before playing a very strong Boston team this Saturday.
Bobrovsky did everything the team needed him to in net. One goal scored on account of Buffalo’s best shooter left completely alone in front of him, and a .963 save percentage on the night. This continues the trend of him playing to better than .930 and the team being successful, however, I think there was plenty of wiggle room in this game had he slipped a couple times.
Defensively I still have some concerns, like Nikitin on the Vanek goal, and a couple of breakaways being given to Buffalo. For as defensive minded as this team is, I find it a bit astonishing that they have given up so many odd man rushes or breakaways in their first three games. Room for improvement and an understanding of when to try and make the big pass are hopefully small hurdles (Hertl’s?) this early in a season.
Offensively, the first 35 minutes of the game was excellent, however, the tape to tape passes still seem a bit hard to complete, and there was quite a bit of poking at the puck to get it forward rather than possessing it and making a sharp pass. Again, this is nit picking a convincing 4-1 victory, simply food for thought as Columbus turns to more capable opponents. They will need to focus on a full sixty minute effort this Saturday.
Some exciting numbers to build on, Columbus is ranked 14th in goals per game (3.0), 10th in goals against (2.3), 11th in powerplay (22.2%), and 13th in penalty kill (83.3%). Numbers that a team can build on, and in the top half of the league in every category. That has me very excited.
Carry the Flag!