Score: Buffalo: 4, Columbus: 3
Shots: BUF-29, CBJ-25
To pin Carter Hutton’s .880 save percentage on him may seem a little shortsighted. The goals that were scored weren’t all his fault - lost coverages, quick possession changes...all of the things that have haunted the Sabres over the past several seasons. And yet, throughout the game, Hutton appeared to lose track of the puck. Not all of those instances led to goals, but how long before they do?
Plus-1: Tage Thompson
What a game from a player with something to prove. Before his tying goal with less than a minute left in the first period, he was calm and confident with the puck. He continued to be everything Buffalo thought he could be when they picked him up from St. Louis. He used his size to his advantage, and then used that to duplicitously carry the puck through several Blues defenders en route to one of Buffalo’s first scoring chances.
Plus-1: Jack Eichel
One more reminder how good this kid is. At one point in the game, it took three Blue Jackets to separate Eichel from the puck. He’s patient. He’s always in control. Even when he loses control, he’s uniquely capable of retaining control. And that play to Victor Olofsson to take the lead in the third? Have. MERCY. He may never get a Cup. He may never be in the Hall of Fame. Regardless, we are lucky to have the opportunity to watch him on a regular basis.
Marcus Johansson made a fantastic heads-up play to keep the puck in the zone on his overtime game-winner. He patiently held the puck and waited for both Alex Wennberg and Elvis Merzlikins to take the bait on a potential pass to Jeff Skinner. When they both bit, Johansson buried the puck. Collin Miller had a game. Though he got bottom-pair minutes, he managed three shots on goal - no Sabre had more. General manager Jason Botterill has to be salivating at his pickups in the offseason.
Casey Mittelstadt has grown from the offseason, and it’s possible he could be the team’s third line center - a good one, at that. What was more impressive about the third line in this game is Kyle Okposo and Jimmy Vesey. The unlikely tandem seem to have rekindled each other, somehow. Okposo had a jump in his step that’s been lacking since his injury seasons ago. Vesey has clicked with the veteran wing, and the pair really could be an NHL third line, which is something Buffalo hasn’t really had since...The Goat, maybe?
In a game that saw the team lose the lead in the last two minutes, there were a lot of positives. It was a reminder of the good things about this team, and there were a few unexpected surprises that give one hope for the upcoming season. It’s been nearly a year since there was something to feel good about in regard to this team. Hold on to that feeling tightly. It’s gotten the fanbase through the last decade.