Blue Jackets, Sabres both go for first win
Dan Bylsma inherited a roster featuring arguably the game’s best player and a championship-quality supporting cast when he began his first NHL coaching gig six years ago.
His second ride on the carousel has presented the more difficult challenge of helping the young, new-look Buffalo Sabres develop chemistry on the ice – a task that’s proved elusive in the early going this season.
The Columbus Blue Jackets took a step back last season after making the playoffs in 2013-14, and like Buffalo, they’re winless going into Monday’s matchup in upstate New York.
Bylsma’s time with Pittsburgh resulted in a 252-117 mark and a Stanley Cup championship in his first season of 2008-09, but achieving those heights will likely take a while in Buffalo. The Sabres’ massive rebuild continues this season, which opened with a 3-1 loss to Ottawa in Thursday’s opener and a 4-1 defeat to Tampa Bay on Saturday.
Jack Eichel, the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft, scored against the Senators and Nicolas Deslauriers netted the goal against the Lightning.
"We needed to come together and develop as a team in how we need to play and how we need to win," said Bylsma, who made a number of changes to his lines after the opener. "We’re in the very beginning of doing that."
Columbus, hit by a rash of injuries last season that left it out of the playoffs after a 93-point effort in 2013-14, fortified itself with a number of moves in the offseason, most notably acquiring Brandon Saad from Chicago and signing him to a long-term deal. The forward scored in Friday’s 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers before the Blue Jackets fell 5-2 the next night, getting swept in the home-and-home series.
Saad has six assists in his last three against the Sabres.
Ryan Johansen and Boone Jenner scored in the third period Saturday but Columbus couldn’t recover from allowing three goals within the first six minutes of the game.
That followed a late collapse Friday, as the Blue Jackets took a 2-1 lead with under four minutes left before allowing three goals in 1:17.
"We have a small margin for error," captain Nick Foligno said. ‘"We have to work the right way and be smarter early in games.
"It’s a great lesson and tool for us to learn. It’s on us as players to come back ready for Buffalo and play like the team we know we can be."
The Blue Jackets also will need former Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky to play better. He’s allowed four goals in each game and was replaced by Curtis McElhinney at the start of the third Saturday.
Bobrovsky won both of his starts with a 1.50 goals-against average against Buffalo last season, and it’s likely that he’ll oppose Chad Johnson in the Columbus Day matinee.
Johnson became the Sabres’ No. 1 goaltender after Robin Lehner suffered a lower-body injury in the second period Thursday. Lehner could miss up to two months and was placed on injured reserve before Johnson made 27 saves against Tampa.
Johnson has posted a 1.63 GAA while winning all three career starts against the Blue Jackets, the most recent coming when he beat Bobrovsky 5-2 while with the Islanders on Jan. 10.