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Big goalie matchup in the offing as Columbus hits town

By Mike Harrington

The bulk of the attention will be in goal tonight in First Niagara Center when the Sabres host the streaking Columbus Blue Jackets.

Ryan Miller will start for the Sabres. He is  seventh in the NHL with a .927 save percentage that is just shy of the .929 he posted in his 2010 Vezina Trophy season.

The Blue Jackets, meanwhile, did not skate here today in the wake of last night's 5-1 home win over Washington. I thought they had a decision to make between red-hot starter Sergei Bobrovsky or backup Curtis McElhinney, even though he is  0-2 in his career against the Sabres with a 4.29 goals-against average and .879 save percentage.

But shortly after noon, the team tweeted that Bobrovsky -- the reigning Vezina winner -- will be back in net tonight. The Jackets don't play again until Tuesday and Bobrovsky is 6-0, 1.37 and .955 in his last six starts so you can see that reasoning. (An aside: If you don't play your backup against the offensively-challenged Sabres, when are you going to play him?)

With Anaheim losing last night in Chicago, Columbus now owns the NHL's longest winning streak (5) and the Jackets will be trying to tie a franchise record set in 2006 with a win tonight. They're 12-6-1 in their last 19 games and 6-1 in January -- in the seven games since Nathan Horton made his debut in the lineup from offseason shoulder surgery. During the five-game win streak, they've outscored opponents, 20-9, and tallied at a 26.3 percent clip on the power play.

The surprise may have actually been the Jackets' 5-10 start, or their 14-17-4 mark in mid-December. Let's not forget they finished last season on a 19-5-5 run and barely missed the playoffs in the Western Conference, losing the last spot on a tiebreaker to Minnesota. Now in the East, and a member of the Metropolitan Division, Columbus is three points out of the playoffs in both the division standing and the ultra-tight East wild-card race.

As per usual, Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan had little to say about the opponent. Even one going as well as Columbus is right now.

"We have a big coaching staff here that analyzes and looks at the opposition and gives their strengths," Nolan said. "My main focus right now is to make sure we're playing the way we're capable of playing. Hopefully we can play the way we're capable and take away some of the stuff they're doing well."

What Buffalo is doing well is lately is finding a way of getting points (6-1-2 in the last nine games at home and 7-4-5 in the last 16 overall). But the Sabres are just 5-9-1 in their history against Columbus, including a 4-1 loss here on Oct. 10.

Marcus Foligno will return after missing a game due to an undisclosed injury and will replace Matt D'Agostini, who is now on the shelf with an upper-body injury suffered Wednesday in Toronto.

Linus Omark will remain a healthy scratch for the Sabres as Nolan is keeping the fourth line of John Scott, Matt Ellis and Zenon Konopka together after Ellis scored against the Leafs (he was profiled by Amy Moritz today).

The speedy Omark, who has no goals in 10 games but has clearly improved his play of late, isn't a fourth-liner by skill set anyway and needs to improve his game enough so he can be on the third line.

"To put him where John Scott goes or Ellis goes doesn't make too much sense,' Nolan said. "Those guys are energy guys. They play the body. They bring a different element to our team. Omark is not one of those types."

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Columbus Blue Jackets | Sabres game day
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John Vogl

John Vogl

John Vogl has been covering the Sabres since 2002-03, an era that has included playoff runs, last-place finishes and three ownership changes. The award-winning writer is the Buffalo chapter chairman for the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association.

@BuffNewsVogl | [email protected]

About Sabres Edge


Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington

Mike Harrington, a Canisius College graduate who began his career as a News reporter in 1987, has been covering the Buffalo Sabres since 2007. He is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and can vouch that exposed flesh freezes instantly when walking in downtown Winnipeg in January.

@BNHarrington | [email protected]


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | [email protected]

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