Greetings from HSBC Arena for tonight's Sabres-Columbus matchup. Is it fair to call the Blue Jackets' a jinx team for the Sabres? They only meet once a year but Buffalo has a terrible history against this mostly faceless group, non-Rick Nash division.
The Blue Jackets have made the playoffs just one time in their 10 seasons -- and didn't win a single game in that appearance as they were swept by Detroit in 2009. But they're off to their best start ever and fifth in the West this year. That's not good news for the Sabres, who have been downright terrible against Columbus.
The Jackets are 7-2-1 against the Sabres and have won four straight since Buffalo's 6-0 win here on March 29, 2004. Those four meetings have been captured by a combined count of 16-3, including a 6-1 rout here in November, 2008 and last year's 4-0 loss at Nationwide Arena. Hard to figure really.
The Sabres, of course, are sliding into a real danger zone in the East standings. They're eight points out of a playoff spot and can largely blame their 4-8-1 home record for the bulk of their trouble. The eight regulation home losses are the most in the NHL and the Sabres have a league-low 34.6 percent of the points at home (9 of 26). Relatively quiet night in the East. The Rangers (31 points) host the Islanders (15) while Colorado is at Carolina (23).
The Sabres (21) are trying to pull even with Carolina and idle Ottawa for ninth place. How's this for a wash of perspective on their season to date -- The Sabres would be LAST in the Western Conference.
The Blue Jackets, meanwhile, have the best road record in the West (8-2-0) and lead the league in road points percentage (16-20, 80 percent). Not a good combination, it would appear. Columbus is wearing its pretty hideous/old Penguins-looking third jerseys tonight (see shot at left) while the Sabres are in classic white.
The cannon logo on the crest is based on this horrendous boom they unleash in otherwise-lovely Nationwide Arena every time the Jackets score a goal. I just about fell out of the press box the first time I heard it go off when I was there in February.
Columbus is starting backup goalie Mathieu Garon. He's 6-1 with a 1.33 GAA and .950 save percentage. Not Patrick Lalime territory. Garon, however, is 1-6, 3.36, .881 against the Sabres in his career. So something will give here.
Sabres starters: Gerbe-Roy-Vanek-Sekera-Myers. Goal: Miller (scratches remain Connolly, Butler, Rivet)
Blue Jackets starters: Umberger-Vermette-Nash-Tyutin-Kiesla. Goal: Garon.
9:29 p.m. We're under way. No idea what's up with the TV broadcast folks. Just heard about it a few minutes ago. I've inquired.
15:24 left: McCormick takes care of business with Commodore on the first draw after the veteran comes out of the box. Two solid rights. McCormick get two (instigating), five and 10 but it's worth it. Commodore gets five.
13:01 left: Big applause as McCormick goes to the room (he got 17 minutes with 15 1/2 left). Shots are 3-1 for Columbus in the period with Sabres still holding 3-0 lead.
12:12 left: Ugh. Stafford drilled into the boards again by Jared Boll (looked like right shoulder). Montador and Boll go at it. They'll get five apiece. Boll gets two for charging while Montador gets two-five-10. So tonight, I guess we're calling the instigator penalty after we haven't seen it all year.
11:03 left: Kaleta pounds Dorsett. Left after left. Probably the best bout of Kaleta's career. And in true Rob Ray fashion, Kaleta declares himself the winner as the crowd salutes him. The Blue Jackets weren't happy with that gesture. Too bad. Kaleta gets 2-5-10. The PIMs are adding up here all of a sudden.
9:32 left: Sekera gets drilled with a shot off the left ankle.
9:03 left: Penalty boxes empty. Finally. Shots are 30-17 for Buffalo. It's 5-1 Columbus in the third.
7:29 left: Stafford back and stymied on a breakaway by Garon, who is shaken up as both players tumble into the end boards.
4:55 left: Near-sellout of 18,529 is announced. Miller less than five minutes from first shutout of the season and one of the easiest of his career.
4:29 left: Ennis makes it 4-0 by one-timing home a beautiful pass from, of all people, Morrisonn. Just the second point of the year for the big guy. Ennis' 6th.
2:47 left: Boll gone, five and a game misconduct for elbowing Morrisonn's head into the glass. That could be a suspension.
47.0: Vanek with a tap-in from Ennis to make it 5-0. That's three PP goals tonight for the first time this season.
It's over: A 5-0 win. Miller's first shutout. Shots were 37-19.
8:30 p.m. We're under way.
16:26 left: Miller makes the save on a 2-on-1, stopping Chris Clark's shot from the right circle.
14:01 left: Clark's tips in a shot from the point with a high stick and it's waved off. Call confirmed. No goal.
11:00 left: Shots are 4-2 for Columbus in this period. This is a game tape not destined for the Hall of Fame.
8:52 left: Another Columbus goal wiped out. Tyutin fires a wrister home from the point but Ethan Moreau goes for goalie interference. He wiped out Ryan Miller just before the shot was taken. Another easy call.
7:59 left: It's Guys-Who-Havent-Scored-In-A-While Night. Stafford bangs one home off a beautiful behind-the-back feed from 'Roy. That makes it 3-0, Sabres. Stafford's fifth and his first since Nov. 3.
6:32 left: Memo to the people in front of the press box: Enough with trying to start the wave. A stupid vestige of the 80s and about as dumb as the blooper videos on the HD board (which we've thankfully been spared of tonight).
End-2nd: Apologies for the dearth of updates. Some Internet troubles here tonight. It's still 3-0 and the Sabres have a 29-12 edge in shots (15-7 in that period). Pretty good scrum with 44.4 seconds left after Mike Commodore got five mintues for boarding Kaleta. Montador and Leopold both jumped in to get roughing minors. Sabres in complete control.
Of note: Terrific kudos to the Sabres for the pregame moment of silence offered for our esteemed friend and colleague Jim Kelley. A true professional, a true Hall of Famer who we strive to uphold the standards of every night in this box. If you missed Jerry Sullivan's column on Kelley, you owe it to yourself to head back a day and check it out.
16:22 left: Let's just say the building is a little deader than it was last Friday against the Laffs. Plenty of empties even in the high-rent areas. Maybe they're snowbound. Maybe they're fed up. Shots are 2-2. Best chance came when the Sabres had a 4-on-1 (yep) and Gaustad fired a slapshot wide to Garon's right and into the side of the net. Another example of why he's got one goal in 30-something games (sorry, I've lost count).
14:02 left: The Sabres take a 1-0 lead as Hecht outbattles two Jackets in the crease to poke home his third after Garon stopped Ennis cutting in from the right side after a neat pass from Grier. Hecht's third. The shot counter in the building is not working but I can tell you it's 4-3 for Buffalo.
11:21 left: Kaleta robbed at the doorstep by Garon after a pretty backhand pass by Hecht.
10:07 left: Shots are 6-4 for Buffalo. Roy just fired wide on the Sabres' last shift. Not much intensity out here from either side. When you see a team once a year, takes quite a while to develop some ooomph in the game.
8:33 left: Sabres have kept the lines they used in practice the last two days. So it's rolled like this: Gerbe-Roy-Vanek, Ennis-Hecht-Kaleta, Stafford-Adam-Pominville, McCormick-Gaustad-Grier.
8:12 left: Kris Russell goes for interference, putting the Sabres on the power play.
5:35 left: Another PP chance for the Sabres, thanks to Derek Dorsett's slashing penalty.
5:06 left: The PP looks so easy when the puck never leaves the zone. Total control and a Myers point shot is fished out and relayed to Pominville for a tap-in to make it 2-0, Sabres. Pominville's second and first in 10 games.
4:19 left: Hecht goes for hooking.
1:34 left: Roy for tripping.
End-1st: Shots are 14-5 for the Sabres, who lead, 2-0. Columbus hardly showed up in that period. I expected more. We'll see how the Jackets respond in the second.