For all the talk about Duane, the irate Buffalo Sabres fan who phoned a local sports radio talk show Friday, the bigger concern in Western New York should be around Jack Eichel.
It’s not so much about his slick wrister that lit the lamp for his 30th goal this season. It’s more for what came in late in the third period.
Down a goal with less than two minutes remaining in regulation, Eichel desperately lunged forward with his stick and tried unsuccessfully to poke-check the puck from Tomas Tatar’s stick. It was too late. The Montreal Canadiens took a commanding 3-1 lead. It may have well been 10-1. It didn’t matter. Eichel had seen enough.
Eichel slid into the Sabres’ empty net at full speed, lifting the crossbar while bracing for impact. After climbing to his knees, he looked at the empty net, now up against the boards, and two-handed his stick across the goal post, snapping it in half in sheer frustration.
“I don’t blame him. I really don’t,” said color commentator and former Sabre Rob Ray about his furious baseball bat like swing. “You gotta have a little better puck management in that case.”
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Eichel then made his way to the bench and shook his head in disbelief and hung his head in frustration. No doubt he felt the all-too familiar feeling of losing clinging to him once again. Barring a miracle, the Sabres will be watching the playoffs instead of participating in them.
Opportunity was Knocking for Sabres
The Sabres came out of the All-Star break with opportunity being served to them on a silver platter. Nine of their next ten games were at home. It was a glorious opportunity to stack some wins and make up much-needed ground in a potential playoff race.
Now, with two straight losses, their chance of winning the playoff lottery (5.1%) are greater than that of making the postseason (4.9%).
“It wears on everyone,” said Eichel Friday, addressing the team’s struggles, “but that’s my job as a hockey player, as a leader, as a person, to be able to find a way to regroup every day and come to work, get better and prepare for the next game and I think that’s what I try to do every day.”
Eichel’s MVP Season
Despite his MVP-like season, Eichel can’t score every goal for this team. This team lacks any kind of secondary scoring. The team was unable to sustain pressure in the offensive zone and was unable to generate quality scoring chances.
Eichel has a career-best 30 goals on the season. His 64-points through 50 games has him on pace for the Sabres’ first 100-point season since Alexander Mogilny (127 points) and Pat LaFontaine (148 points) both sailed past the mile marker in 1992-93.
Given the Sabres have scored 148 goals this season, it means Eichel has scored or assisted on 43 percent of his team’s goals.
Botterill’s Hot Mess
General manager Jason Botterill has his hands full. He desperately needs to make a move to improve his team’s roster that’s bloated with too many defenseman. He’s up against the cap and has two players–Zach Bogosian and Evan Rodrigues–that have already asked for trades. It’d be a shame if Eichel voiced similar wishes.
Botterill’s inaction isn’t just killing this team, he may be breaking Eichel. He needs help. Drafting, while important, is only going to help down the road. This team needs help now. The Sabres own the longest playoff drought in the National Hockey League and there’s no end in sight.
Unrest Around the Sabres
It’s one thing for fans to vent their frustration. And they definitely have. Many have stopped going; others have stopped watching on television. Cheap seats on secondary ticketing sites are back in style. At the time of this article was submitted for publishing, there were seats for only $9 for Feb. 4 game against the Colorado Avalanche. Several other games could be had for just $10 a ticket.
Fans feel like the organization has sucked the life out of them. Now, they’re at their wits end, a breaking point not felt since Terry Pegula bought the team in 2011. They’re desensitized to the extent that they just don’t care anymore. The only thing worse than an engaged fan voicing their concerns? An apathetic one.
So when it came for Eichel becoming a lumberjack on the goal post Friday night, frankly, it was a great sign. At least it shows the team still has a player that cares.
Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”