As the Columbus Blue Jackets continue to search for the offense that was so productive last season, their defense is keeping them in the mix atop the Metropolitan Division this season.
Two teams headed in opposite directions square off when the Blue Jackets meet the Sabres on Monday night at KeyBank Center in Buffalo.
Columbus (12-7-1) has allowed just two goals in a three-game winning streak, including a 2-0 win over the New York Rangers on Friday. Two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 15 of 36 shots in the third period en route to his second shutout this season and the 21st of his career.
“I just try to be focused and just when I need it, step up,” said the Russia native, who came within 2:34 of another shutout in a 5-1 win over Buffalo on Oct. 25.
Bobrovsky is 11-4-1 and leads the league with a 2.02 goals-against average. He is also tied with Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks for second in save percentage (.933), trailing only the Boston Bruins‘ Anton Khudobin (.935).
“He’s been there for the past few games,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. “Just not a lot of run support. What can you say? He wins the Vezina last year. He is what he is. He is that good.”
Bobrovsky’s solid play between the pipes is needed because Tortorella’s offensive unit continues to sputter.
Cam Atkinson has just four goals after collecting a career-best 35 last season. Artemi Panarin, acquired from the Blackhawks in a blockbuster offseason trade, also has four goals after scoring at least 30 in each of his first two NHL seasons.
Anderson was one of five players to score in last month’s win over the Sabres. Milano was one of three players recalled from Cleveland of the American Hockey League on Sunday, joining defenseman Gabriel Carlsson and goaltender Joonas Korpisalo.
“We’re still getting chances from, really, our secondary guys,” Tortorella told the Blue Jackets’ official website on Sunday. “We still haven’t gotten our top guys untracked.”
Columbus is in the bottom third of the league at 2.85 goals per game and has scored only five goals during its winning streak. Last season, the Jackets were among seven teams to average more than three goals per game.
This is the Blue Jackets’ first of two visits to western New York in 2017-18. They have alternated wins and losses over the past four games there, including a 5-3 defeat on March 11.
Buffalo, meanwhile, is looking to halt a five-game losing streak. The Sabres (5-11-4) opened a four-game homestand with a 3-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night in the second of back-to-back games.
“I thought we got better as the game wore on. When you look at the game — it’s a 1-1 game in the third period — we battled back in the game, but we made a mistake and it ends up in our net,” first-year Sabres coach Phil Housley said. “I still feel that we’re not all on the same page, and we’re going to continue to work on that.”
The Sabres have been held to one goal in four losses during their skid, and they are 30th in the league with 46 goals, two more than the San Jose Sharks.
“We’ve had our chances,” said Evander Kane, who leads Buffalo with 11 goals, including three short-handed goals, “but we definitely need to generate more offense as a team. A lot of that has to do with execution. A lot of that has to do with taking the puck to the net instead of playing along the perimeter.”
Kane has points in five of his past six games, registering four goals and two assists. The Sabres have won all three games from the Blue Jackets when Kane registered a point — and lost all three when he did not.
Chad Johnson was in goal during last month’s loss to Columbus, but after watching him lose for the fourth straight time on Saturday, Housley likely will turn to Robin Lehner. However, Lehner is riding a three-game skid in which he has surrendered 10 goals.
The native of Sweden is 2-2-1 with a 1.49 GAA and a .952 save percentage in six games, including five starts, at Buffalo this season. In seven career games (six starts) versus the Blue Jackets, Lehner is 5-2-0 with a 1.81 GAA, a .951 save percentage and one shutout.
Lehner stopped all 24 shots he faced in relief of Anders Nilsson during the win over Columbus in March.