BUFFALO, N.Y. — Rookie star Jack Eichel’s hustling unassisted goal gave Dan Bylsma an eye-catching highlight from his first victory as coach of the Buffalo Sabres.
“That will be one that we will pull out and watch again,” Bylsma said after Buffalo beat Columbus 4-2 on Monday.
Eichel, the former Boston University player selected No. 2 overall in the June draft, bodied off Boone Jenner in a loose-puck battle, kept the puck in the offensive zone, wheeled to his forehand and ripped a shot over goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to give Buffalo a 3-1 lead at 9:21 of the third period.
“We’ve been harping a lot on back pressure in the middle, and Coach has been on me about working hard for the puck,” Eichel said. “When I came off, he gave me a bump. That’s what he likes to see, working back for the puck and getting rewarded.”
Eichel has two goals this season.
Rasmus Ristolainen, Ryan O’Reilly and Matt Moulson had power-play goals for Buffalo. Moulson added two assists, and Chad Johnson made 21 saves to help Buffalo rebound after losing its first two games of the season.
“I thought we earned the win,” Bylsma said. “They had to battle for every inch, we were hard to play against, I think we gave them a lot to handle.”
It was Johnson’s first win for Buffalo, and first since Feb. 24 with the New York Islanders.
“We were 0-2 and we wanted to get that first win, that good feeling that winning gives you,” Johnson said. “It’s big for the whole team and obviously as individuals. It’s one of hopefully many here.”
Scott Hartnell and Brandon Saad scored for Columbus, and Bobrovsky stopped 29 shots. The Blue Jackets are 0-3.
“Right now, I’m just disappointed,” Columbus coach Todd Richards said. “The other games, I thought we did some things that you can build off your game. There wasn’t a lot accomplished in tonight’s game.”
Ristolainen opened the scoring on a power play at 2:33 of the second period after the line of Eichel, Evander Kane and Marcus Foligno pressured Columbus and drew a hooking penalty on Nick Foligno. Kane slid a cross-ice entry pass to Marcus Foligno, who won it back to Ristolainen for a slap shot from the right point.
Eichel and Kane worked a 2-on-1 later, but Kane couldn’t direct Eichel’s slip pass onto goal. Bobrovsky denied Cody Franson’s slap shot and Jamie McGinn’s rebound jab midway through the second.
Buffalo couldn’t put the Blue Jackets away despite a dominant second period that featured a 16-8 advantage in shots on goal.
Then O’Reilly struck with the man advantage. Moulson found him 1-on-1 with Bobrovsky, and O’Reilly beat the Columbus goalie with a high snap shot at 5:10 of the third.
Saad put Columbus back in the game on a power play at 7:20 when he buried a loose puck off a scrum in the crease, but Eichel restored Buffalo’s advantage with his nifty goal.
“Couple other times I’ve tried to let them ride from that side and I’ve snapped my stick,” Eichel said. “Pretty happy that I got a new stick between periods and it did me well.”
Bylsma couldn’t help but marvel at the rookie’s goal.
“You’re looking at one of the best goalies in the league in Bobrovsky right there,” he said. “We’ll see that goal again, we’ll see it replayed again, just all of it. It’s a pretty remarkable goal.”
Poor positioning allowed Hartnell to cut the deficit to 1. After Johnson denied Nick Foligno in tight, Ryan Johansen was able to spot an open Hartnell in the slot for the power-play goal with 6:47 left.
But Moulson maintained his spot in front of the Columbus net to put O’Reilly’s pass home on another power play with 4:14 remaining.
And for a young team full of fresh faces, the first win comes just in time for a first road trip.
“It’s huge to get it here,” Eichel said. “We’re going to Florida with some confidence.”