DETROIT - Dan Bylsma said during training camp that keeping Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart on the Sabres’ roster would give Buffalo its best chance to win. With two months of the season gone, the rookies have proved the coach right.
Buffalo carries a two-game winning streak into Tuesday’s match in Detroit, and the game-winning goals belonged to Eichel and Reinhart. They have combined for half of the Sabres’ 10 game-winners this season, with Reinhart’s total of three ranking sixth in the NHL.
“It’s nice to see that we’re able to get in here and contribute early,” Eichel said Monday in Joe Louis Arena.
No other NHL team boasts two rookies among its top-three goal scorers. While the placement of Eichel (tied for first) and Reinhart (third) is partly an indictment of Buffalo’s slow-starting veterans, there’s also no doubt the rookies have earned their rankings atop the Sabres’ stat sheet.
Eichel enters his 25th game with eight goals, while Reinhart has six.
“There’s a lot of expectation and there’s a lot of eyes on them,” Bylsma said. “Just getting their first goal was big for them. They both think and believe they can do more and be better for the team, but for where they’ve come from this year has been pretty impressive with what they’ve been able to do and how they’re doing it.
“It’s promising for our team.”
For the second time in a week, Bylsma tabbed Reinhart as the team’s most improved player. The 20-year-old scored twice during Saturday’s 4-1 victory over Nashville, and he’s on pace for a 20-goal season. Regarded as a playmaker in junior, Reinhart is showing he can be a finisher, too.
“He’s just a smart player all the way around,” left wing Matt Moulson said. “He’s going to be able to make plays and get goals just because of how smart he is and how well he thinks the game.”
Reinhart will face the Red Wings as the first-line right winger alongside center Ryan O’Reilly and left wing Evander Kane. The trio combined for three goals and six points against the Predators.
“To get everyone chipping in and supporting leads to more success,” Reinhart said. “It’s nice to have that.”
Eichel, meanwhile, is on pace for 27 goals. He’s scored in two of the last three games. His eight goals rank second among NHL rookies, two behind Detroit pace-setter Dylan Larkin, and Eichel leads first-year players with 80 shots.
“We’ve got young guys in big roles, so we’ve got to step up,” defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen said. “So far it’s been good, but I think everyone can still be better and we can win more games than we’ve won so far. We’ve just got to keep building.”
Though Ristolainen is not a rookie, he’s another young player who has been vital to Buffalo’s victories. The 21-year-old ranks second on the team in points with 14, recording four goals and 10 assists. He is tied for 12th in scoring among NHL defensemen.
While the three first-round picks are expected to be big parts of the Sabres’ long-term future, they’re making sure to be a huge part of the present.
“I don’t think it’s a surprise by any means,” Moulson said. “Rasmus is a great defenseman at both ends of the rink. Jack and Rhino obviously have been getting some points.
“We have a lot of good young players, and they’re a big part of why we’re having success.”
In order to continue having success, the Sabres will need more than a trio of youngsters on the score sheet. The long-awaited balanced attack finally arrived during the weekend. The Sabres had 13 skaters record at least a point during the 4-1 wins over Carolina and Nashville.
The outburst allowed Buffalo to win by three goals or more on consecutive nights for the first time since March 2008.
“Hopefully, the flood gates open up for us,” Moulson said. “I don’t think we played our two best games by any means, but we got some big goals by guys, some timely goals and guys getting to the net and getting some dirty goals. We’re going to have to keep doing that.”