Published by hockeybuzz.com, 11-20-2017
He's the team's second-leading score a soon-to-be $10 million man and the face of the Buffalo Sabres franchise, yet Jack Eichel found himself in an unfamiliar spot at the morning skate today. According to reports from the KeyBank ice this morning Sabres bench boss Phil Housley sent Eichel to the third line at practice. His wingers were Zemgus Girgensons and Jason Pominville, two players who had been on his wing before, but only in a top-six role.
Center Ryan O'Reilly moved between Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart while third line center Johan Larsson was in the top-six between Benoit Pouliot and Kyle Okposo.
The Sabres are in a terrible slide right now having gone winless in their last 5 (0-3-2) and are coming off of a listless effort at home vs. the Carolina Hurricanes with Eichel being called out by the media for his lollygagging through the first two periods which included the game's first goal.
On the play, the Sabres were on the powerplay and with :45 seconds left in the penalty, Eichel stayed on the ice after a Carolina turnover in their own zone. The Hurricanes gathered the puck as their penalty expired and Justin Williams lead a two-on-one into the Buffalo zone. Williams got in close and dipsy-doodled before potting a wrister past Buffalo goalie Chad Johnson. At the end of the play Eichel was on camera gliding into the zone with his stick on his knees doing his best Alexander Ovechkin impersonation.
"How concerned are you about the body language?" asked a reporter post-game. "He lollygags off the ice with the shifts, the way he floats back on the (Justin) Williams goal tonight.
"You're seeing a lot of these plays from your key guy who everyone is expecting to carry this team."
Apparently Housley was concerned enough to drop Eichel down to the third line.
Credit to the coach, he didn't call out Eichel in public in response to the question. Housley had been in those shoes before. Housley was highly-skilled player drafted by, and playing for, legendary Scotty Bowman as an 18 yr. old, and he had his fair share of failures as a young player. The Sabres are 5-11-4 under the first year coach and he's had plenty of opportunities to call out individual players and the team as a whole and only once has he done it thus far. That was after a lackluster performance at Detroit the night before the Carolina loss.
"We've got to be smarter," he told the gathered media after the Detroit game. "We just got outbattled, outworked and outcompeted tonight. At times we even looked slow and I don't know why that is. We played one game in six nights. It's disappointing."
It doesn't get any easier tonight as the Columbus Blue Jackets come to town on a three-game winning streak. During that streak they've allowed a total of two goals against and that doesn't bode well for a Sabres team that's last in the league in goals scored (2.30 goals/game) and has scored only one goal in five of their last seven games.
Like the rest of the team, Eichel has been cold in the points department lately with only one goal and one assist in his last five games with both of those points coming against the Pittsburgh Penguins. What seems to be more problematic at this juncture is his plus/minus which is a minus-5 over that five-game span and his performance in the first two periods against the 'Canes didn't help much.
Eichel will be between two wingers he's played with before in Girgensons and Pominville. Both wingers bring something different to the table and both have had varying degrees of success on Eichel's wing. Girgensons is a hard-working battler in the corner who has enough speed to get up and down the ice. Although Pominville doesn't quite have the same speed he uses his veteran savvy to get find open ice and is a good finisher. Unfortunately for the 34 yr. old, he's cooled considerably and is an 0'fer in his last five with a minus-6 rating.
Sabres.com had this to say about the changes via their twitter feed: "Coach Housley on new lines: "Haven’t been scoring, need to make some changes. Looked at some guys who have had success together in the past. Like the balance.'" They also listed the Eichel line as second in the lineup behind the Kane-O'Reilly-Reinhart line.
Very crafty moves by the Sabres PR department but one gets the sense that behind the curtain a message is being sent and that the team is dressing it up the best they can.
Good news for those of us who think that the bottom-six must start contributing more. No, we're not talking about the team's second leading scorer anchoring that line, but fourth-line center Jacob Josefson was back on the ice skating according to reports.
Josefson has been out since October 17 with a lower-body injury and it's not that he'll single-handedly turn the fourth line around, but he was beginning to play well before his injury against the Anaheim Ducks.
The 26 yr. old former first round pick (NJD, 2009) is now listed as day-to-day.
Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen has missed the last seven Buffalo Sabres games and despite calls that he was largely ineffective, the numbers say otherwise.
It's not that Ristolainen is the second coming of Denis Potvin, but his absence on an already thin blue line created a huge hole in the d-corps that is not being filled even close to adequately. Prior to Ristolainen's injury, the Sabres had begun to right the ship by going 4-3-1 after a debilitating 0-4-1 start. In those eight games prior to his injury the Sabres had only one clunker, a 5-1 loss at Columbus. They had two lackluster efforts that resulted in identical 3-2 losses at home against Vancouver and San Jose' but other than that they played some pretty good hockey which included a 5-4 overtime win at Boston against the Bruins.
During that span, Buffalo scored 23 goals-for (2.875 g/gm) and allowed 25 against (3.125 ga/gm) for a minus-2 goal differential in those games. Since then the Sabres have scored a total of 12 goals in their last seven games and have given up 23 goals against for a minus-11 goal differential.
Ristolainen still leads the league in average time on ice at 27:09/game with most of it coming 5v5 as he's 44th in the league with and average of 3:44/game in powerplay time and 49th with 3:00/game on the penalty kill.
With him out of the lineup the team has a 1-4-2 record.