by Dan Adkisson
The Buffalo Sabres and the Columbus Blue Jackets are both trying to recover from a miserable 2020-21 season. The matchup between the two teams on November 22 could provide one of them with the boost that they both need.
This season has seen improvements from both teams. It’s too early to tell how the season will pan out for either side but games like this one can give us some insight into what might happen later on. The teams are fairly well matched, particularly since the Sabres have lost star Jack Eichel.
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So, in this upcoming game, will the Sabres be able to beat the Blue Jackets, despite losing their star center? Or will the Blue Jackets be able to overcome their hosts’ defenses and win this important game?
What happened with Jack Eichel
On March 7, 2021, Jack Eichel herniated a disc in his neck. Further evaluations revealed that Eichel would need surgery to repair the disc. After months of denying Eichel the surgery he requested, the Sabres traded him to the Las Vegas Golden Knights on November 4.
The Jack Eichel saga raises some interesting questions about players’ bodily autonomy. Of course, teams should be able to have a say in how a player’s injuries are treated. This can prevent players from being taken advantage of or falling for quack remedies.
One possible solution would be for teams to refuse to cover medical procedures that they didn’t approve of. The expense would probably deter most players from making bad decisions. In rare cases such as Eichel’s, though, it would be a healthy middle ground.
Eichel’s case wasn’t as clear-cut. Both sides agreed that he needed surgery to repair his neck injury – they just couldn’t agree on which type. The surgery he wanted to get is newer but not experimental and would have protected his range of motion.
Denying Eichel the surgery of his choice didn’t make the Sabres’ management look very good. It might work for parents with small children but “because I said so” isn’t a valid reason in most situations. Sabres’ management ended up looking rigid and vindictive.
Now the Sabres have lost one of the most talented playmakers in the league. When healthy, Eichel is nearly unstoppable on the ice. He’s one of the best centers in the NHL. The Sabres had most of last season to figure out how to play without him but he’s a hard man to replace.
Buffalo Sabres season so far
As of game 15, the Buffalo Sabres have a record of 7-6-2. Not the worst in the league, but definitely not the best, either. It’s decidedly average. They started the season strong with a three-win streak but since then they’ve seesawed between winning and losing.
The Sabres’ loss to the Los Angeles Kings flagged up some of the issues the Sabres have been having. The Kings have had an unexpectedly good season in the mind of some. Things have started to come together in LA largely based on teamwork and the fact that the team is settling into its own identity.
Playing against a team that has found their groove makes it obvious that the Sabres are still searching for theirs. Lately they’ve struggled to get a good rhythm going on the ice and it’s proving costly for them.
It’s not all doom and gloom in Buffalo, though. Their wins this month against the Edmonton Oilers and the Pittsburgh Penguins is proof of that.
Their victory against the Oilers was partly due to smart coaching decisions. Sabres’ coach Don Granato kept his players fresh and energetic by not keeping them on the ice for too long. Dylan Cozens also had a big impact, scoring two of their three goals. His speed gives him a major advantage.
Against the Penguins, it was goalkeeper Dustin Tokarski who had the biggest impact. Tokarski made 45 saves that night, a career high that saved the game. No matter how much of the play the Penguins controlled, they only managed to get one goal past Tokarski.
Earlier games this season have shown that the Sabres have the talent they need. It’s just confidence they’re lacking. Building their confidence up will help them to play as a team and find their rhythm.
Columbus Blue Jackets season so far
The Blue Jackets might be sitting near the bottom of their division – 6 of 8 in the Metropolitan Division – but they’re still in the top five of the Eastern Conference. They haven’t had any winning or losing streaks but have slowly and steadily been amassing enough points to keep themselves competitive.
Their game against the Detroit Red Wings on November 15 shows just what the team is capable of. If anything, this game proved how good they are under pressure and how dogged they can be.
The Blue Jackets had been trailing the Red Wings all night. In the last five minutes of the game, they didn’t just pull level but scored three times to get ahead and win. The team powered through and turned things around in the most dramatic way.
Their aggressive, high-scoring style of play might be too much for the Sabres to keep up with. The recent Detroit win is going to have the Blue Jackets all fired up and will make them tough to beat.
Monday’s game really could be anybody’s match. Both the Sabres and the Blue Jackets are talented teams who are rebuilding after a disastrous 2020-21 season. They might not be able to make it to the top of their divisions this season but they can certainly give us some great performances on the ice.