Saturday, December 3, 2016

One!...Two!...Three!...Four!...We want more!

Published by, 12-02-2016

It was a goal-chant that began back in the 70’s at the old Memorial Auditorium when the Buffalo Sabres were scoring plenty of goals in a high-flying NHL as teams routinely scored well over 300 goals in a season. After a Sabres goal the crowd would chant One!...We want two. When they scored a second goal they'd chant One!...Two!...We want three. And so on.

For Buffalo at the time it meant the electricity of Hall of Famer Gilbert Perreault centering the goal machine known as The French Connection. In the 1975-76 season the Buffalo Sabres scored 339 goals (in 80 games) which placed them tied for second in the league. Buffalo opened the season on an eight-game winning streak with six of those games played at the Aud. In those six games the Sabres scored 4, 8, 7, 5, 9 and 3 goals, respectively, which had the home crowd doing a lot of counting.

Shades of that era returned for the 1992-93 season when Pat LaFontaine and Alexander Mogilny lit it up to the tune of 129 goals combined that season. Buffalo's 335 goals in 84 games tied them for sixth in the league. And during the 2006-07 season, the Sabres would be known as the team built for the new NHL with centers Daniel Briere and Chris Drury leading an aptly named "Ferrari Sabres" to a league-leading 308 goals (82 games.)

Mixed in between those three eras, however, were periods of fits and starts, lock-down defensive game-plans and often times either player ineptitude or lack of talent that left the team and fanbase mired in mediocrity or worse. It didn't make for a fun atmosphere and often times the goal chant was either forgotten or shackled by apathy.

All of those darker eras made their presence known in one way or another through the first 21 games of this season as the Sabres were besieged by injuries, especially to Jack Eichel, and they couldn't score if their very existence dependent upon it. Buffalo slogged through those games scoring at a measly 1.81 goals/game clip oft times lulling their fans to sleep. The Sabres were looking like a team that was destined for the bottom third of the league, an area they'd been stuck in for four years.

That all seemed to change when Eichel returned to the lineup on Tuesday in Ottawa. With him back on the ice the Sabres found more energy, speed and drive and proceeded to pull off two wins in a row while also scoring more than two goals in a game. Even though they still hadn't gelled as a team, collectively looking as if they were still finding their legs as a team, they were able to come away with a 5-4 victory over the Senators on Tuesday in Eichel's first game of the season before following it up with a 4-3 win over the NY Rangers.

Last night versus the Metropolitan Division-leading Rangers was Eichel's first home game of the season and he brought something to the ice that Sabres fans haven't seen in a while--moxie. Sure, there was some of that last year, but it was a season where the 19 yr. old Eichel was still getting a feel for his team, his coach and the league in general. Yet even so, he still managed a team-leading 24 goals and was second with 59 points.

Eichel hit the ice these last two games like a greyhound out of the gate and the sheer energy he brought radiated throughout Sabreland from his team mates and coaches, to the last row of the 300's and out to any Sabres fan watching. Not since Perreault have we seen a player that electrifying.

The Rangers are a proving to be throwback to those high-flying NHL eras where the ice seemed wide open and the goalies looked real small in net. They're scoring at a clip that places them 11 goals better than their nearest competitor and with one of the best goalies in the league patrolling the crease, they represented a big challenge for Buffalo last night. Yet, the Sabres came away with a come-from-behind victory. New York went into the third period with a 3-2 lead, but for the first time all season (13 games) the Rangers lost as Eichel scored both the game-tying and game-winning goals in the third.

The cool part about the Eichel effect is that it's all-encompassing at this time. Every player on the team seems to have found another gear and has been at the very least just a bit sharper on the ice. Eichel's first goal of the game came on a speed rush along the wall by Kyle Okposo who made a nifty reach-around pass to spring Eichel for a clear shot to the net. He made no mistake as he blew a snapshot by Henrik Lundqvist. Earlier in the game, the Sabres forecheck really gave the Rangers fits and sustained pressure lead to Buffalo's second goal by Brian Gionta which tied the game at 2-2. The Eichel/Okposo/Sam Reinhart had started the o-zone pressure which lead to Gionta's goal.

Those were the skill goals.

The other two Sabres goals, the first and last, came courtesy of fortuitous bounces which often times is a result of hard work and maybe a touch of moxie. Lundqvist had a center-ice tip from Johan Larsson jump over him and into the net while Eichel's second goal came from a deflection off of a Ranger's skate at the top of the crease. That second Eichel goal, however, also had the Eichel effect on display.

Lundqvist is in his 12th NHL season and is possible (probable?) Hall of Fame material, but on that play he was sprawling in desperation like a rookie while being fully aware of Eichel at the bottom of the faceoff circle to the right of his crease. It's not often where you see a goalie with the poise "King Henrik" go down so fast on a shooter, especially laying out like he did. But it happened. Eichel sent a cross-ice pass and it deflected in for the game-winner.

Buffalo has scored nine goals in two games since Eichel returned to the lineup. In 13 games prior, stretching back to the beginning of November, the team totaled 21 goals. The energy is back at KeyBank Center and the atmosphere is fun again. The only problem is that the goal chant was conspicuously missing last night. Perhaps the fans have forgotten about it as it's been so long since they've been able to get past number 2.

Hopefully with five out of the next six games at home, they can get that chant going again.

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