Published by hockeybuzz.com, 12-31-2017
With Buffalo and most of the northern part of the country was in a deep freeze through much of December, Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres was heating up in the scoring department. Like the rest of his Sabres teammates, Eichel got off to a cold start in losing back-to-back games to the Pittsburgh Penguins by a combined 9-1 score. But what would follow was a strong 12-game span that saw him collect 15 of his team-leading 16 points overall for the month.
Eichel was held scoreless in three of his last 12 games but collected eights goals and seven of his eight-total assists during that span. He also logged his first career hat trick and was a goal-post away from getting his second hat trick late in the third period at New Jersey against the Devils on Friday. In his last six games of the month, Eichel had seven goals and added four assists.
It should also be noted that for the third month in a row, Eichel was atop the team in primary assists, albeit tied with Evander Kane and Ryan O'Reilly at five each. Of Eichel's 20 total assists on the season, 16 of them have been primary. And also of note, only four (1+3) of his team-leading 35 points has come on the powerplay.
Only Kane and O'Reilly were of note in the scoring department during December, but they pretty much faded into the background as Eichel took over. Kane, who had lead the team in scoring since the second game of the season had an 11-point month (3+8) with five of his assist being primary. However, his goal-production took a dip as it went from six in each of the prior two months down to three in December. Kane also watched as his plus/minus rating took a dive with a minus-7 for the month.
Once again, O'Reilly scored eight points, which is...consistent. Unfortunately for a team as goal-starved as the Sabres are, and with him skating a forward-high 20:27/game, one would hope for a little more in the scoring department. On the positive side, he lead the team in plus/minus last month with a plus-2.
Jason Pominville got off to a very strong start in October with 12 points. Since then, however, he's been looking every bit his 35 years of age as he's managed only two points in each of last two months. He went goal-less throughout November and scored two goals in December. His plus/minus went from plus-3 in October to a minus-2 in November. His minus-7 rating in December was the worst on the team for the month.
Good news for the defense as they finally scored a goal. Jake McCabe broke the drought in Buffalo's 28th game and he would add another five games later. Rasmus Ristolainen also broke through for his first goal of the season in dramatic fashion as he scored the overtime winner vs. the Devils in the last game of the month, which was Game-38.
Robin Lehner has been stout in goal as of late but has gotten little goal-support from the skaters in front of him. Despite seeing his goals-against drop from 2.92 to 2.74 and his save-percentage go up from .906 to .915 his record or the month was a solid, yet unspectacular, 4-3-3. In his three overtime losses, Lehner held the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and NY Islanders to two goals through regulation, on the road no-less, but lost in overtime.
But perhaps better than his performance in net has been his quotes about challenges that end up going to Toronto for review. “I guess it’s something in Buffalo waters, you know?," said the goalie via ESPN after a late save in regulation vs. the Islanders was overturned and sent the game to overtime (where NY won.) "I know Toronto already made up their mind it was a goal before they shot the puck. It's just how it works in this League."
In Buffalo's final game vs. New Jersey, a goal by Devils forward Taylor Hall was overturned because the on-ice officials determined he was off side. Because of that reversal, the score remained 3-3 and Buffalo eventually won in overtime on Ristolainen's goal.
Lehner didn't hold back post-game, "See what happens when the refs get to make the call and leave the Toronto guys out of it?" Lehner said. "We get fair results."
Between Eichel, "fair results" and the team trending upward, perhaps we'll see a much better 2018 portion of the season.
That said, have a festive, yet safe, New Year's Eve everyone.
Buffalo Sabres 2017-18 Individual Stats leaders:
--October: Pominville, Kane, Eichel, 12; O'Reilly, 8
--November: Kane, 11; Okposo, 9; O'Reilly, 8
--December: Eichel, 16; Kane, 11; O'Reilly, 8
--October: Pominville, Kane, 6; Eichel, O'Reilly, 4
--November: Kane, 6; Pouliot, 4; Eichel, O'Reilly, Reinhart, Okposo, 3
--December: Eichel, 8; Kane, Okposo, 3; six with 2
--October: O'Reilly, 3; Pominville, Kane, Reinhart, 1
--November: O'Reilly, Pouliot, Reinhart, Okposo, 1
--December: Eichel, Kane, Pominville, Rodrigues, 1
--October: Eichel, 8 Pominville, Kane, 6
--November: Okposo, 6; Kane, O'Reilly, 5
--December: Eichel, Kane, 8; O'Reilly, 6; Scandella, 5
--October: Kane, Ristolainen, 2; six players with 1
--November: Kane, 3; Okposo, 2; three players with 1
--December: Eichel, Ristolainen, 2; Kane, Reinhart, Okposo, 1
--October: Eichel, 7; O'Reilly, Ristolainen, 4; Kane, Beaulieu, 2
--November: Eichel, 4; O'Reilly, Okposo, 3; four players with 2
--December: Eichel, Kane, O'Reilly, 5; Scandella, 3; McCabe, 2
--October: Pominville, +3; Girgensons, Gorges, +1; Pouliot, even
--November: Reinhart, Nolan, Scandella, Antipin, even; Kane, Griffith, Gorges, -1
--December: O'Reilly, +2; Girgensons, Wilson, +1; Larsson, McCabe, even
--October: O'Reilly, -9; Reinhart, -8; Okposo, -7
--November: O'Reilly, Larsson, -8; McCabe, -7; Beaulieu, -6
--December: Kane, Pominville, -7; Ristolainen, -6; Rodrigues, -5
--October: 4-2-1; 2.78 GAA; .911 Sv%; 1 shutout
--November: 5-11-2; 2.92; .906, 1
--December: 9-14-5; 2.74; .915; 1
--October: 1-3-1; 4.06 GAA; .879 Sv%; 0 shutouts
--November: 1-4-2; 3.59; .885; 0
--December: 1-6-3; 3.78; .881; 0