BUFFALO, N.Y. – Pascal Leclaire and R.J. Umberger made sure the Columbus Blue Jackets didn’t cut any corners.
Two days after coach Ken Hitchcock called his team out for a lackadaisical effort in a three-goal loss to Phoenix, the Blue Jackets had no such issues in their greatest offensive output of the season, a 6-1 rout of the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night.
Leclaire made 36 saves in his return from an ankle injury and Umberger scored twice for the Blue Jackets, who tied a franchise mark for their largest margin of victory, last done in January 2006 in a 6-1 win over Pittsburgh.
“It was back to the grind with a lot of hard work,” Umberger said. “That’s what makes us successful.”
Having Leclaire back also helps. Activated off injured reserve on Wednesday after missing seven games, Leclaire made his first appearance since leaving in the second period of a 2-1 loss at Minnesota on Oct. 25.
He made several brilliant saves throughout the game, including an amazing left toe stop on Derek Roy from in tight in the third period.
“That’s the difference in the league right now,” Hitchcock said. “The teams that have it, they win. That’s how competitive everybody is and that’s how close it is. If you’ve got good goaltending you’re going to win games.”
Columbus chased Buffalo goalie Patrick Lalime after Manny Malhotra’s goal made it 4-0 at 5:13 of the second period. Lalime allowed four goals on eight shots before being pulled for Ryan Miller, who completed the second period with a pair of saves.
Lalime, usually the backup, returned for the third period and finished with 17 saves overall. He was making just his fourth start of the season, and first since a 5-2 loss to Ottawa on Oct. 27.
“It’s not the kind of start you want,” Lalime said. “It was one of those nights. Every chance they had, they found a way to put it in.”
Malhotra added an assist and Michael Peca, rookie Derick Brassard, and Rick Nash also scored for the Blue Jackets, who improved to 8-7-2 with their fourth win in five games.
“You don’t want to come back and get destroyed,” Leclaire said. “The win was important for us. It shows a lot of character coming in and beating a good team.”
Columbus won its third straight over Buffalo, and is 6-2-1 against the Sabres.
Jason Pominville scored a power-play goal for Buffalo (9-4-3), which had its second regulation loss in the past three games.
“We’re not there as a team yet,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “We did some good things, but we did some really dumb things.”
Buffalo also received bad news when forward Ales Kotalik left with about seven minutes left in the third period with a hamstring injury after landing awkwardly while attempting to hurdle a Columbus player inside the Blue Jackets blue line. Ruff said the injury “doesn’t look too promising right now.”
Umberger began a three-goal first-period scoring spree for the Blue Jackets when he beat Lalime with a wrist shot from the slot 5:37 into the game.
Peca scored his first of the year almost two minutes later, diving for and then deflecting Fedor Tyutin’s shot from the left point.
Pominville cut the deficit to 4-1 with 6 1/2 minutes left in the second with a goal while Buffalo had a two-man advantage. Umberger and Nash capped the scoring with third-period goals.
Umberger, though, was foiled in his bid for a hat trick when Lalime stopped his breakaway attempt in the third period.
Mike Commodore and Jason Chimera each had a pair of assists for Columbus.
Notes: The Sabres lead the league with five 5-on-3 goals. … The Blue Jackets are 5-1-2 in their last eight after a 1-4 stretch. … Buffalo C Tim Connolly played despite missing most of the third period with a bruised chest in the Sabres loss to St. Louis Wednesday. … Brassard has six goals and four assists in his last eight games and has registered a point in 13 of 16 games. … Lalime dropped to 7-4 lifetime against the Blue Jackets.