John Tortorella's Columbus Blue Jackets pride themselves on patience. After losing offensive threats Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin to free agency during the summer, they entered this season with an emphasis on taking care of business away from the puck and waiting for opportunities to strike offensively.
It has been working for the past two months. The Blue Jackets came to Buffalo on Saturday having earned points in 20 of their past 22 games. They allowed a league best 1.73 goals per game in that span.
It took overtime, but the Sabres were able to match that patience and grind out a 2-1 victory over the Blue Jackets at KeyBank Center. Jack Eichel scored the overtime winner - his third straight game with a goal - while Carter Hutton made 22 saves for his first victory since Oct. 22.
"It was a hard-fought game," Hutton said. "I thought it was a bit of a chess match there. … Both teams didn't really want to be the team to make a mistake. It was kind of, protect the puck.
"That's all right though. That's the hockey you want to play. You want to be in tight games at this time of year. You've got to play good defensively and I thought we did a really good job tonight."
Video: Eichel leads Sabres by Blue Jackets for overtime win
Ralph Krueger thought his team slipped away from its principles in recent losses to Ottawa and Montreal, principles that he felt had begun to form as habits going into the bye week. The Sabres had won three of four games before that break, including road victories in Dallas and Detroit.
Krueger saw this game as confirmation of how the Sabres need to continue to play down the stretch. They took an early lead on a goal from Evan Rodrigues, carried it into the third period, and responded calmly when Oliver Bjorkstrand tied the game for the Blue Jackets.
Knowing Columbus' propensity to forecheck aggressively with two forwards, Rodrigues said the plan was to quickly chase down pucks, rim them out of the zone, and keep moving north.
"We committed to a defensive game," Rodrigues said. "We didn't cheat to offense. We didn't try to win the game 5-4. We grinded it out and kept them out of our zone as much as we could. We knew they were a good forechecking team, so tried to move the puck up north and it worked out for us."
The Sabres still have six of their next seven contests at home, an important opportunity to make up ground in the standings. This win, Krueger said, provides a blueprint moving forward.
"All of us need to take the good habits out of this game and make them something the fans here see consistently," he said. "… It was nice to get them the win, but we want to use these home game that are coming up here. We want to use this homestand to continue to solidify our game."
Hutton gets the 'W'
A confluence of factors kept Hutton out of the win column since his 6-0-0 start in October. Four of his losses came in overtime. Strong play from Linus Ullmark limited him to just four starts since the beginning of December.
Through it all, Hutton spoke about supporting Ullmark and focusing on what he could control. His coaches and teammates lauded him for his work in practice, which set the stage for him to reassume the starting job when Ullmark sustained an injury earlier this week.
"Carter getting the win is really secondary to the way he's prepared himself for this situation happening," Krueger said. "… I told you a few weeks ago that there was a lot of extra work going on with [assistant coach] Mike Bales. Off ice, on ice, all kinds of work.
"Nobody gave up on Carter and Carter didn't give up on Carter. So, we're not surprised but we're so pleased for him to see him have performances like this when the team desperately needed it. Good on him, he's such a character in this group and he's a real leader and a voice all the time whether he's starting or not. So, of course you're pleased with him and we need to just build on this."
Video: Carter Hutton: Postgame Show Interview
When the final horn sounded, Hutton's teammates swarmed him in appreciation.
"This is a team sport here and it's good to know that you're well-liked," he said. "The guys appreciate what I put into this and it doesn't go unnoticed. So, obviously a meaningful win here. We're going to enjoy today. get to watch the Super Bowl tomorrow, hang out and we're right back at it."
Eichel, Lazar come through in overtime
Two plays were crucial for the Sabres in overtime. One, obviously, was Eichel's goal. The other was the opening faceoff won by Curtis Lazar.
Krueger went with Lazar to start the extra period with Eichel and Rasmus Ristolainen. Lazar won the faceoff against Pierre Luc-Dubois and immediately changed, with Sam Reinhart coming onto the ice in his place.
It was a job well done for the forward, who won nine of his 16 draws.
"I give it my all there," Lazar said. "It's a small thing, but it pays off, especially in overtime, when there's such an emphasis on possession. I'm just glad I was able to snap that one back."
The possession paved the way for Eichel to carry the puck into the offensive zone. He initially drifted left before cutting to the right faceoff circle, where he fired a wrist shot past Matiss Kivlenieks for his 31st goal of the season.
Video: CBJ@BUF: Eichel rips overtime winner from circle
"The difference between 3-on-3 and 5-on-5 is very large and the space gives the elite players in the league opportunities to do things that are special," Krueger said. "It was all about Jack taking the space and very calmly maintaining that position until he got the goal, saw the hole, saw the gap.
"We know the genius of Jack and the competitiveness and the leadership that he shows and the hunger he has to be successful as a teammate, not just as an individual. That's what makes that goal so special."
Rodrigues, Dahlin connect
Rodrigues opened the scoring on a high give-and-go with Rasmus Dahlin. Rodrigues began the play by passing to Dahlin high in the Columbus zone. Dahlin faked right before quickly cutting left, gaining a step on Blue Jackets winger Emil Bemstrom.
Rodrigues joined the play up high before peeling into the slot for the return pass from Dahlin.
Video: CBJ@BUF: Rodrigues rips wrist shot home from slot
"Dahls made a great play beating his forward coming out," Rodrigues said. "He's so good at that. And once he did that and drew their other D to him, I just kind of found the open area in the middle of the ice and tried to shoot it as quick as possible."
Montour scratched with injury
Brandon Montour took warmups but did not play due to a lower-body injury. The defenseman had taken a maintenance day while the Sabres practiced Friday.
"It's day-to-day," Krueger said. "He wouldn't have been in that situation if it was a serious situation, but we definitely didn't want to risk what he was feeling to put him in the lineup today."
Zemgus Girgensons delivered the hit of the game in the dying seconds of the middle period, sending Blue Jackets defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov into the Sabres' bench.
The homestand continues against the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday. Coverage on MSG begins at 6:30 p.m., or you can listen to the game on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 7.