By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
There’s little doubt that if the Buffalo Sabres are going to climb out of the hole that they have been in for much of the last decade, it will be Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin that metaphorically will provide the ladders.
In that sense, Saturday night’s game at the KeyBank Center was an interesting time for an update. The two of them went in opposite directions during Buffalo’s 4-2 win, which ended a six-game losing streak and put the Sabres back above the .500 mark in terms of wins and losses.
On the plus side, Eichel certainly picked up the Sabres throughout the night. He finished with four goals, the first such game by a Sabre since Thomas Vanek did it in 2010. Eichel said he hadn’t reached that number of goals in a game before he entered the college ranks at Boston University.
As you could imagine, coach Ralph Krueger was thrilled to see that sort of output in a situation when it was badly needed.
“It’s certainly been a tough few weeks because there’s been a lot of honest work done by the guys and there’s been nothing coming in return,” he said. “What we are searching for is finishing games with wins, and we weren’t getting them. Tonight was going to be a grind. We knew that. With all the injuries, we needed our best players to step up. Jack had a world-class performance. … The fruit of the attitude that he’s had (as of late) came out tonight.”
Help from a friend
Eichel’s first three goals put the Sabres ahead by a goal in a back-and-forth contest with the Senators. The fourth one was an empty-netter from center ice – top shelf by the middle of the crossbar.
“That was something I focused on the last few days,” Eichel said about wanting to shoot the puck more. “I got a text from a friend, (ex-Sabre) Matt Moulson. He was all over me to start shooting the puck more. I figured I’d shoot a little more.”
It was one of those nights when Eichel presented something of an unsolvable puzzle to opposing players. Defenses had to be aware that he was skating so well, but he also brought a hard, accurate shot to Saturday’s game. It’s quite a combination.
“He’s a tough guy to contain. When he’s coming down with speed, it’s pretty difficult for the opposition to stop,” Jeff Skinner said. “He scored from pretty far out, which is a pretty nice tool for him to have. Defensemen have to respect his speed, so they back off and give him some space.”
Meanwhile, Dahlin’s night was a different story. He took a seat near the end of the second period, and stayed there for the rest of the evening. Dahlin finished with 11 minutes and 56 seconds of playing time. It was a coach’s decision.
“He’s a teenager, and this is the very best league in the world,” Krueger said. “He’s in a steep learning curve. We’ve had a lot of situations in the last few weeks that have been mentally draining on the team, and we had to dig deep to get this win. We are making decisions by the moment for the team. This was a coaching decision, not against Rasmus at all. It was for the four other guys. Rasmus will grow from it, learn from it, and move on from it, I’m sure.”
Been there, know that
One of the few people on the team that know what Dahlin might be thinking right now. Eichel – another “youngster” who entered the NHL with big expectations, knows all about the growing pains that are necessary to succeed in this league.
“Rasmus is an unbelievable player, and such an important part of our team,” he said. “The pressure and the expectations that come from being Rasmus Dahlin are not easy. Just the way he handles himself every day is incredible to see. You’re going to go through tough times. Everything is not butterflies, everything is not always easy. He’s such a tremendous player, such a tremendous person. He works hard, and cares so much about this game and this team. I expect him to bounce back in a big way. He’s such a big part of our success going forward he’s going to be fine.”
The losing streak is over, but the big picture is still a bit muddy. The Sabres need to consistently beat teams like Ottawa at home if they are going to move long-term in the proper direction. What will it take to keep that up?
“Maybe somebody else score a goal?” Skinner asked with a little whimsy.
“It’s nice to win. Now we have to follow it up. I still think there’s a lot of room for improvement which is a good sign after a win. So we’ll try to do some things tomorrow.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)