It's the Christmas Break for hockey and if ever a reprieve was needed, now's the time. We Sabres fans know the numbers, but it's good to see that Jack Eichel is heating up.
For the second year in a row Eichel has been out of the national spotlight while the headlines are being grabbed by another strong group of young players making their mark in the NHL. However, after a slow start Jack is back. He had his first career hat trick four games ago against the Carolina Hurricanes and posted five goals and eight points in the four games heading into the break. Of his 32 points (13+19,) only three (all assists) have come on the powerplay and two assists have come with the Sabres shorthanded. Eichel's 27 points at even strength rank him eighth in the league.
Another bright spot for Buffalo is Evander Kane who is still leads the Sabres in scoring with 33 points (15+18) with three of his goals coming with the team shorthanded. Kane, who's in the final year of his contract, has been remarkably consistent in the points department this season. His longest point drought is three games (once) which coincided with a six-game goal drought, also his longest of the season, but even through that rough patch Kane still had four assists and was a plus-3.
The Sabres are off until Wednesday when they head to Brooklyn to take on the NY Islanders and then they travel to New Jersey to face the New Jersey Devils. Buffalo played both those teams very early in the season and got their butts handed to them by scores of 6-3 and 6-2, respectively. Those two games will be a tune-up for the Sabres as they're set to play the NY Rangers at Citi Field in NY City for the 10th Winter Classic.
After the 4-2 loss at Carolina on Saturday, the Sabres last game before the Christmas break, Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News releases some quotes he obtained from Eichel in the locker room. "Jack Eichel was calm, direct and to the point late Saturday night," began Harrington. "No ranting and raving, no rolling of the eyes. Dare we say he was captain-like?"
Eichel has been known for a number of things post-game, but this may be the first time that Harrington, or any other Sabres beat reporter called him "captain-like," especially after a loss. Could it be that the 21 yr. old is in the process of passing through a threshold?
During his hattrick performance at home against the Hurricanes eight days earlier, I was left with the impression that Eichel had finally figured out that when he skates like he can and plays his game, he scares the crap out of the opposition. No further proof was needed of that then on his third goal when he had the 'Canes lost in an effort to follow him:
It may have been only the second time in his career that he took over a game, the first one almost two years ago in Boston when he and the Sabres defeated his hometown Bruins on the strength of his two-goals and two-assists.
The tools have always been there, but the maturity seems to have been lacking somewhat and it seems as if Eichel is starting to get a handle on the importance of him and his role on the team. In a span of eight days he showed just how much fear he could strike into an opponent and be the voice of the team in absence of Ryan O'Reilly, who missed the game to witness the birth of his and his fiancé's first child.
"I think it shows a lack of maturity as a group for us right now with the position that we're in," Eichel told The Buffalo News after the game. "We played last night. We're traveling, we're in a back to back. They're here and ready and waiting for us. They're at home right before break. You know they're going to come out and play hard. And from the first shift, we're chasing the game.
"We knew what to expect tonight and still weren't ready to go," Eichel said. "It's all about reflection now. Like Coach told us, we've got to look in the mirror here. That was a big game for us to try to win two in a row. Now we have three or four days to think about it. Not good enough."
With the Sabres still in a though spot, it's too early to say whether those two Carolina games were lauching pads for him to take his place amongst the elite, but in the very least, it's a good starting point.
For a link to the Harrington piece, click here.
Rochester Americans forward Stevie Moses was suspended by the team on Friday for breach of contract. No details were given but we've come to find out that he bolted for Finland to join Jokerit Helsinki of the Kontinental Hockey League, according to a tweet from the team.
"This explains why the Amerks suspended him," wrote Keith Wozniak of the website, Let'sGoAmerks in reply. "he took off overseas."
Moses signed a two-year deal with the team through 2019-20.