COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Columbus Blue Jackets are starting to look as if they will live up to the hype.
Rick Nash scored twice and goalie Curtis Sanford was again solid in goal as the Blue Jackets chased Buffalo goalie Jhonas Enroth early in the second period of a 5-1 victory that sent the Sabres to a third straight loss Saturday night.
“Anytime you can get a couple goals, it takes the pressure off big-time at home,” said Nash, who now has seven on the season. “The guys stuck to the game play right off the start and it seemed to work.”
The Blue Jackets are on a five-game points streak and are 4-1-2 run since a brutal 2-12-1 start.
Mark Letestu, Marc Methot and R.J. Umberger also scored for Columbus, who broke out with their highest goal output and largest margin of victory this season.
“We haven’t had many of those games, obviously,” Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel said. “It was nice just to roll the lines. We’ve been doing a lot of good things the last couple of weeks. We said how our play without the puck was going to lead to offence.”
Rookie Ryan Johansen, James Wisniewski and Jeff Carter each added two assists for Columbus, which controlled the game, except for a short stretch in the second period, in front of the most energized crowd of the season.
Sanford finished with 28 saves improving to 3-0-2 as a starter for the Blue Jackets.
“We’re getting pucks deep, we’re not making it hard on ourselves,” Nash said of the team’s recent surge. “We’re trying not to have any turnovers at the blue lines. It’s just a lot simpler game. It seems to work for the people we have in this room.”
Jordan Leopold scored for the injury-riddled Sabres, who played with energy but were out-of-sync coming off an emotional overtime loss to Boston on Wednesday in which they twice squandered two-goal leads.
Enroth has been a surprising success with the Sabres this season—and will have to play a larger role now with star Ryan Miller sidelined with a concussion—coming into play with an 7-2-1 record. But he was yanked after allowing four goals on 18 shots in just 24:29 of action Friday.
“I don’t know if I’ve seen it this bad before,” said Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff, the league’s longest-tenured coach. “I think we’ve got seven regulars out of the lineup. We need to make better plays than we did tonight. Obviously when you’re short-handed you’ve got to be good with the puck.”
To make matters worse, tough defenceman Robyn Regehr was injured during the game and didn’t return.
Letestu was the first to beat Enroth. He got position on rookie defenceman Marc-Andre Gragnani in the slot to snap home a rebound from the right circle midway through the opening period. The goal was Letestu’s third in eight games since being acquired from Pittsburgh earlier in the month.
Nash scored six minutes later with Gragnani in the box for interference, redirecting Wisniewski’s point shot for the power-play goal.
The Blue Jackets doubled their lead in a span of 12 seconds early in the second period to chase Enroth.
Methot, a defenceman, sent a wrist shot through traffic to make it 3-0 at 4:17 and snap a 101-game goal-drought.
Then Umberger out-muscled Drew Stafford to stuff home a loose puck that was sliding along the goal line for just his third. Johansen tossed a hard-angle shot from the half boards that sneaked between Enroth’s pads.
Leopold gave the Sabres some hope with a goal at 8:01, slicing into the Columbus zone and around Wisniewski before scoring his fifth from the left circle over Sanford.
A few minutes later with Buffalo on the power play and gaining momentum, Sanford robbed Luke Adam twice. Once at the doorstep and sliding across the crease to make a spectacular toe save.
“That was probably the most important part of the game,” Sanford said. “Getting the kill at that time was huge. They could have brought to back to two goals but the guys did a really good job boxing out their guys and letting me see the puck.”
Three minutes after Sanford’s stand, Carter feathered a cross-zone pass to a streaking Nash, who one-timed his seventh into an open net to make it 5-1.
“We already got ourselves in a huge hole so it had to start coming to salvage the season,” Umberger said. “We still have a long way to go.”
NOTES: Columbus LW Vinny Prospal became the 268th player to play 1,000 career games in the NHL and is the sixth Czech with that distinction. He leads the Blue Jackets in scoring with 19 points in 22 games. He was Philadelphia’s second pick, 71st overall, in the 1993 Entry Draft. … Drew MacIntyre finished with 15 stops in relief of Enroth, who had won all four of his previous road starts this year. … Zach Kassian, Buffalo’s first-round pick in the 2009 draft, made his NHL debut and picked up the primary assist on Leopold’s goal. … Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel served as an assistant to Sabres coach Lindy Ruff from 2002-06. … The Sabres entered tied with San Jose for the best road record at 7-2-0.