Former Sabres goalie and present hockey analyst Martin Biron was on WGR this morning talking about how he feels the Sabres can win games without injured top-six forward Ryan O'Reilly in the lineup. Biron said that the team can't consistently win 4-3 games like they did against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night but instead he said that
One can understand why Sabres bench boss Dan Bylsma went into lockdown mode back in November as he was without franchise center Jack Eichel. Without him and his speed in the lineup the Sabres became as slower team and without his skill the ice became smaller. And it wasn’t only him that was out of the lineup. Say what you will about defensemen Zach Bogosian and Dmitry Kulikov, but those two big guys can get up ice and both missed significant time in November. Add in Evander Kane who's recovery from broken ribs stretched into last month while took even more time to get up to game speed and you can see why the Sabres were playing mid-90’s style hockey.
But that's done. Over. Jack's back. And it's time for him to take over his team.
The good book says, "you don't light a lamp and put it under a basket," and with Eichel you don't smother a burning flame. You let both shine. Eichel was the player that Sabreland "suffered" for. At the bottom of the abyss there were two players who'd make all the boos worthwhile. Connor McDavid was one and the other was Eichel. McDavid took over the Edmonton Oilers from Day-1. With Eichel it's taken a bit longer, but he has those same traits.
I get what GM Tim Murray did when he brought in a veteran leader like O'Reilly who's all around skill and top-notch two-way game cover everything Sabres both on and off he ice. O'Reilly is a consummate professional who carried the team on his back for much of last season and would have done so this year were it not for spasms that have limited his effectiveness early in the season forcing him to the sidelines for some games. He wants to carry a heavy load and in his mind he may even need to carry that load, but playing a heavy two-way game for the amount of minutes per game he plays is the recipe for a shortened, injury filled career.
His and Eichel's games are different. O'Reilly will never be "Jack Flash" and Eichel will never wholly be that two-way "worker-bee." That being said, O'Reilly has speed and shows flashes of brilliance while Eichel isn't adverse to defensive responsibilities and the two can co-exist like so many one/two centers have in the past. However, if ever there was a time to define what this club should be with a player of Eichel's caliber, it is now.
The Sabres need to get on a roll and they won't be able to do it trying to win games 2-1. If they want to get things rolling they won't be able to do so tonight playing Boston's grinding game. Bruins head coach Claude Julien is a master of that style, even lead Boston to the Stanley Cup in that fashion. Although their talent isn't near what it was back in 2011, they still grind it out in all three zones and counter punch at the most opportune moments.
If you need any proof that playing Boston's game is fruitless against them, look at the results. The Sabres are 1-3-2 dating back to last season. In all of those games Buffalo tried to slug it out with the B's only to come out on the losing end. The lone win began that way and after falling behind 3-1 last December 26, out of desperation Bylsma took the governor off of his race car and the Sabres scored five unanswered goals.
Who was at the center of that onslaught?
Jack Eichel with his two goals and two assists.
And what happened this season when the Sabres tried to go all Western Conference against the Los Angeles Kings earlier this month? They slogged their way around and fell behind 2-0. What happened next was a barrage of four unanswered goals leading to a 6-3 victory. O'Reilly willed the Sabres to their first goal but after that it was Eichel with two goals and an assist to lead the way.
I'm sensing a trend here.
The Sabres have three players at the heart of their core in O'Reilly, Eichel, and Rasmus Ristolainen and all three have a huge impact on the team in varying ways. But Eichel is the center of it all. Whether or not he eventually wears the "C" is to be determined but what we're damn sure right now is that he's got what it takes to take over a game.
The time is now to for him do that for his team.