Monday, October 17, 2016

"McEichel II" is on hold as Buffalo faces an offensive juggenaut in Edmonton

Published by, 10-16-2016

They were the top two picks in the 2015 NHL draft and ended up in different conferences--Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers in the West and Jack Eichel for the Buffalo Sabers in the East. However, despite being over 2,000 miles apart will forever be joined as "McEichel" and their paths will cross only twice per NHL season lest the two teams make it to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The NHL has to be thrilled right now as the not only does the league have McDavid and Eichel, but also rookie Auston Matthews playing at “The Center of the Hockey Universe” in Toronto.  They couldn’t have asked for much more as three franchise-type teenagers are in place to lead three troubled franchises as the eventual faces of the league for years to come. McDavid looks to be heir-apparent to Wayne Gretzky, Eichel and his blue collar roots looks ready to carry the load in Buffalo while Arizona-native Matthews, the crowning jewel of a Commissioner Gary Bettman's non-traditional market expansion, is set to take his place atop Mount Maple Leaf as the savior of an Orignial Six franchise.
Those three represent merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to burgeoning young talent hitting the ice in the NHL. There’s Dylan Larkin in Detroit, Johnny Gaudreau in Calgary, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog in Colorodo Max Domi in Arizona, Mitch Marner and William Nylander in Toronto as well as Tampa’s Jonathan Drouin, New Jersey’s Taylor Hall and defensemen Aaron Ekblad (FLA,) Victor Hedman (TBL,) Shayne Gostisbeher (PHI) and Arizona’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson, to name a few.

The Buffalo Sabres are in Edmonton to take on the Oilers this evening in what should have been “McEichel III.” With the two playing in different conferences they only see each other twice per year and last year they only matched up once because McDavid was out with a broken collar-bone. Because of that injury, McDavid, who was sidelined for three months, empathizes with Eichel's plight. “It’s not fun. It’s really hard," he told the gathered media in Edmonton yesterday. “It’s harder mentally than physically. The injury heals.

“It’s about coming back and not missing a beat. That’s the main thing. It’s a credit to the doctors and the team around you but it’s also keeping yourself in shape. You’re looking at two months and it’s hard to stay focused.”

Oilers head coach Todd McLellan coached both players for Team North America in the recently completed World Cup of Hockey and he said it best when in saying it's a blow to the fans not having premier talent on the ice. “As an entity, as entertainment, you feel sorry for the guys getting hurt, like with Connor last year," he said to the press. “The losers in all are the fans. The Buffalo fans will miss him at home, as will his teammates. But it happens."

It certainly looked like Buffalo missed Eichel in their season opener. A disheveled team plodded through a 4-1 home-loss to the Montreal Canadiens. There were times when they looked like they were in synch but for the most part there was disarray and it showed in the final score. The good news is that the Sabres have had two days to not only make adjustments to their line-up, but also to gear up for the onslaught of speed and offensive firepower that McDavid and the Oilers represent.

“As hot as they’ve been and with the speed they’re coming at you, it’s going to be a big challenge,” said Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma via Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News. “I watched their first two games now and I was too young to understand the Edmonton of old and the rolling of waves of the offense, but that’s what I was thinking about watching those last two games.”

Ahhh, the Edmonton of old. Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Paul Coffey leading a fast-skating, high-scoring Oilers dynasty to four Stanley Cups in five seasons from 1984 to 1988. That group was at the tail end of a post-expansion golden era for the NHL. The Oilers had succeeded two previous dynasties in the Montreal Canadiens (four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1976-79) and the NY Islanders (four consecutive from 1980-83.) Legendary names like Montreal's Guy LaFleur, Larry Robinson, Ken Dryden, and Yvan Cournoyer and the Islanders Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy and Brian Trottier all weaving together 12 years of dynamic, dynastic hockey.

The McDavid/Eichel, and now Matthews, rivalry is only just begun and all three are expected to be a big part of a franchise revival that hopefully leads to a Stanley Cup for their respective teams. The Oilers haven't won the Cup since 1990 and have had one Finals appearance since. Toronto hasn't won since 1967, the last season of the Original Six era and haven't been to the Finals since while the Sabres have been to the Finals twice since joining the league for the 1970-71 season but lost both times. 

McDavid/Eichel is a great selling point for the NHL in general, but this evening's matchup is still a game between two teams. With McDavid out last season, the Oilers beat Buffalo 4-2 in the first game of a western Canada road trip for the Sabres and when was back in the lineup for the second game between the two teams he scored both Edmonton goals in a 2-1 overtime victory."McEichel I" was finally in the books.

The Sabres were facing a tough task even if Eichel was playing. The Oilers have begun the season by scoring 12 goals in two victories over cross-province rival Calgary. McDavid is off to a roaring start with three goals and three assists in back-to-back three-point games and is leading a charge. “He’s certainly feeling it,” said Bylsma. “Six points seems like a lot and there’s probably three or four more points out there with the opportunities he had. A breakaway, a crack at the empty net against Calgary. Six is an awful lot but he could have more.”


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