Blue Jackets-Sabres Preview
Dan Bylsma and John Tortorella have both hoisted the Stanley Cup as coaches and have expectations their players often have trouble meeting, leading to plenty of frustrating moments during their first seasons overseeing the rebuilding of fledgling clubs.
Buffalo's progression has been most noticeable lately, though, giving Bylsma plenty of hope for the future. Tortorella just witnessed one of Columbus' best performances since he took the job eight games into the season.
They'll meet in the NHL's only game Friday night as the Sabres look to sweep the season series from the visiting Blue Jackets by winning a season-high fourth straight.
Bylsma took over Pittsburgh with 25 games left in 2008-09 and guided the Sidney Crosby-led Penguins to the Stanley Cup months later. He recorded 100-point seasons in four of the next five, but he never came close to that postseason success again and was fired after last season.
Buffalo (34-35-11) hired Bylsma shortly after, trusting him to guide a young core that includes rookie Jack Eichel through a rough patch and into contention down the road. The Sabres have made strides and are riding their first three-game winning streak since Nov. 7-12 following Tuesday's 3-1 victory over New Jersey.
Eichel scored his 24th goal and assisted on Ryan O'Reilly's 21st in support of Chad Johnson, who made 18 saves.
"This shows how much we've grown," Johnson said. "Get rid of October with that learning curve as a group, with a new coach and new players. After that, we've showed we can be a good team."
Eichel and O'Reilly scored in Buffalo's 4-2 win over Columbus on Oct. 12, nine days before the Blue Jackets fired Todd Richards and hired the brash and demanding Tortorella.
Columbus (32-40-8) began the season with eight straight losses and dropped its first under Tortorella, but it also has shown some progress despite sitting at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division.
Tortorella won the Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004 and hasn't been shy about expressing his frustration with the inconsistency of the young Blue Jackets. They've won two of three, though, and dominated the third period of Wednesday's 5-1 win over Toronto.
Brandon Dubinsky, who also played four seasons under Tortorella with the New York Rangers from 2008-12, scored twice, and Brandon Saad added a goal and an assist.
Dubinsky's 17 goals are his most since a career-high 24 in 2010-11.
"If we're going to progress as a team, (Dubinsky) has to score," Tortorella said. "He's a guy that ends up with a lot of chances. He has more to give - he knows that - and if we're going to be a better team, he has to (score more)."
Sergei Bobrovsky made 26 saves and set a franchise record with his 97th victory since joining the club in 2013, when he won the Vezina Trophy in the lockout-shortened season.
"It's a great honor," Bobrovsky said. "I hope there are more to come."
Bobrovsky struggled against the Sabres back in October, though. He was out with an injury when Eichel finished with two assists in Buffalo's 4-0 victory Feb. 19.
Johnson won the first meeting and could be in net again for this one. He has a 2.13 goals-against average while winning five of his last seven starts.