Thursday, March 10, 2016

Things are lining up for the Sabres. "Jack Flash" has the top-line jumpin'

Reprinted with permission from

The Buffalo Sabres lost to a depleted NY Rangers team last night 4-2 as they fell into hole that they just couldn't climb out of. In a season filled with errors, inconsistencies, injuries and growing pains, that at team like the Rangers could defeat the Sabres without the services of No. 1 goalie Henrik Lundqvist, top-six forward Rick Nash and top-four defenseman Mark Staal, is not all that surprising. Yet despite the woes that engulfed Sabreland post-game, there's a play from Buffalo's young top-line that gives us a glimpse into what could be a very exciting future.

With the Sabres down 3-0 and the puck deep in their own zone, a centering pass from below the goal line was deflected to an open area in the high slot. Well before that puck hit the ice a trio of Buffalo Sabres were already headed up ice as if they were shot out of a cannon leaving the Rangers back-check in their wake. In a flash, "Jack Flash," rookie Jack Eichel was in the New York zone drawing the lone Rangers defenseman towards him in a 2-on-1. As fellow rookie Sam Reinhart was barreling towards the net, Eichel hesitated before snapping a perfect pass to Reinhart who simply kept his stick on the ice as he redirected the puck into the net.

Thanks to Blueshirt Banter we have the video:

It was something one would see from the Chicago Blackhawks, or if you're familiar with the NBA, the Golden State Warriors. Speed kills and those that have the talent to convert on a consistent basis have the tendency to end up with championship rings on their fingers.

I'm pretty sure I haven't seen a play like that from this edition of the Buffalo Sabres all season and I'm looking forward to seeing that more often as we move forward. The line of Eichel, Reinhart and Evander Kane are really starting to do some pretty incredible things. To have both Eichel and Kane hit the nitrous switch and go from first to overdrive in a heartbeat is ridiculous, but expected. To have Reinhart hitting a speed he probably never hit before is equally impressive as he had just enough time to beat a Rangers back check that was closing fast.

Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma has himself a pretty good situation right now at the tail end of the 2015-16 season. He started out his first year in Buffalo with 12 new faces in the lineup and a team learning a whole new system from a new coaching staff. "Disco" Dan might need to ditch the gold chains and polyester for his new moniker of "Mad Juggler" as he's used an array of line combinations that would make former head coach Lindy Ruff look rather staid. But he may have finally found himself a dangerous top line combination that's fast, skilled and building confidence.

Hats off to Reinhart whose off-the-charts hockey sense and diligent devotion to his craft has allowed him to adapt to different teammates and strengths while getting the most out of them and himself. He's not the fastest skater, but when you're reading the play a step or two ahead, it's like gaining an extra stride and it's as if you've become faster.

"Jack Flash" is in a league all his own when it comes to speed and quickness. Eichel can stop and turn on a dime, effortlessly go from 0-60 in a flash and at times seems as if he can glide faster than some can skate. He also has elite hockey sense plus an incredible touch with that composite stick where he can either snap a bullet past a goalie or take a little bit off on a rip a pass like the one to Reinhart last night.

As for Kane, the lightbulb may have finally gone off in his head. In baseball terms he's a five tool type player who is gritty can skate fast, shoot hard, score and drop the gloves. When he's on his game, like we've been seeing lately, he's a handful and then some. The only thing that's kept him from being an elite powerforward is a tendency to put his off-ice image before his on-ice gifts. Only time will tell if he's ditched his childish ways but if he can mature enough to take advantage of a golden opportunity that lies before him, he may be able to cradle that money phone inside the Stanley Cup while chilling in Vegas. And I want an autographed picture of that.

Bylsma actually has himself two lines working extremely well right now. Prior to the emergence of the Eichel line, Johan Larsson, Brian Gionta and Marcus Foligno formed the steadiest trio to date. The two-way, all-purpose line, which hit the scoresheet last night for Buffalo's only other goal, has been a constant since Bylsma put them together at Ottawa on February 16. Although during that 11-game stretch the trio only has a combined six goals and seven assists, they've been making life miserable against the opposition's top lines.

It will be interesting to see what happens when the team's leading scorer, Ryan O'Reilly, comes back from injury.

O'Reilly was had a most of his success with  Reinhart and/or the departed Jamie McGinn on his wing and he may be introduced to new wingmen. A likely candidate would be Zemgus Girgensons who's now in a third-line role with rookie Daniel Catenacci on one side and fourth-liner Nicolas Deslauriers on the other. "Gus" has been struggling in the production department all season for a number of reasons and although he's shown the he can have success with Eichel, the overt talent around him, plus his lack of consistent production, has forced him into more of a third line checking role where he's been pretty solid. His minus-2 rating on the team is fourth amongst players who have played in 55 games or more and is only one behind a trio at minus-1.

It will probably be at least another week before O'Reilly hits the ice again and anything can happen with the lines Bylsma's now using. Injured top-six forward Tyler Ennis may also be in play around then, which might be a good thing. A simple solution to any line conundrum would ne to have O'Reilly skating between Girgensons and Ennis in a second-line role giving Bylsma the ability to essentially role three lines. Something we haven't seen in over a decade.

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