Eichel after another Sabres loss: ‘I have to play better’

November 10, 2017
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As the losses mount for the Buffalo Sabres, so, too, does the annoyance level for Jack Eichel.

Mostly because of what he is doing. Or, rather, isn’t doing.

Such as creating scoring chances on a regular basis. And getting shots on goal. And being both creative and dangerous when in possession of the puck.

Eichel didn’t have a point, attempted just four shots (one was blocked and three were stopped by goalie Roberto Luongo) and repeatedly looked annoyed by his inability to be productive in Friday’s 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers.

The face of the franchise, the guy who the four-years-and-counting rebuild is being focused around, is not happy with his play.

“Frustrated? Yeah, I am,” Eichel said after Friday’s game dropped the Sabres record to 5-9-2, worst in the Eastern Conference.

With that he tossed his skate into his equipment bag.

“I’m not producing. I don’t think I’m making an impact,” he said, flinging his other skate into the bag.

He was certainly spot-on in his self-analysis of his play Friday. One scout even asked during the game, “How much are they going to be paying him?”

For the record, it will be $80 million over eight seasons when his new contract kicks in at the start of the 2018-19 season.

But that’s a long way away. Eichel’s looking only at the here and now. The third-year centerman has gone seven consecutive games without a goal, matching the longest such stretch of his career. He has just three assists in that span, when the Sabres have gone 3-4.

They were coming off a 3-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on Tuesday. Instead of building on it, they regressed.

Their prized center puts much of the burden on his shoulders.

“I don’t know what it is right now,” said Eichel, who has produced 4 goals, 10 assists and 14 points in 16 games. “I have to play better.”

He’s not alone. Few forwards played well over the final two periods on Friday, when the Sabres were outscored 4-0.

That’s somewhat misleading because the Panthers scored a pair of empty-net goals 17 seconds apart in the game’s 58th minute, by Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck.

But in terms of possession and chances and territorial play, it was a fairly accurate number. Evgeny Dadonov tied the score 6:52 into the second period, then Ian McCoshen gave the Florida the lead 3:50 into the third when his wrister from the left point eluded a screened Robin Lehner.

And this is after the Sabres played a solid first period, scoring the only goal as Kyle Okposo redirected from the deep slot a knee-high Victor Antipin point shot at 13:02 on a power play.

“We just didn’t make a lot of plays,” Eichel said.

He knows he’s at the top of that list, too. Phil Housley understands the frustration level. But he also sees perhaps what Eichel doesn’t recognize.

Sometimes, when there’s no play to be made, he can’t try to be Superman.

“He cares,” Housley said, “but he has to focus his energy on the right decisions. Sometimes he has to take what really is given. If you’re one-against-two, the good decision is getting it deep.”

In that undermanned situation, when Eichel attempts the high-risk play to beat a defender high in the offensive zone, the puck often ends up going the other way. And then he expends far too much energy on defensive zone coverage when his line still could be in the offensive zone.

“It’s been a lot of learning experiences,” Okposo said, “and I’m sick of learning experiences. It’s not fun.”

Kevin Oklobzija
About Kevin Oklobzija

Kevin Oklobzija is a contributor to The Buffalo Star, a veteran hockey writer and member of the Rochester Americans Hall of Fame. He still believes National Lampoon’s Vacation may be the best movie ever made.

Browse more articles by Kevin Oklobzija.

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