Eichel's eruption says it all after another Sabres loss - The Buffalo News

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Eichel's eruption says it all after another Sabres loss

BOSTON -- Another loss was in the books and there was virtually no sound in the Sabres' dressing room Saturday afternoon other than goaltender Robin Lehner quietly chatting with a small group of reporters. And then Mount Eichel erupted.

Jack Eichel, all of 20 years old, has clearly had enough with the morose brand of hockey this team is playing almost every game.

After a 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins in TD Garden that wasn't nearly as close as the score might say, a red-faced Eichel went berserk. He fired some pieces of equipment into his duffel bag, pounded others on his locker seat and drove the bag hard into the rubberized floor at one point.

There were also some choice four-letter words spliced into the outburst of Eichel, who stormed out of the room without speaking to reporters even as a team PR official inquired if he would do so. Normal media practice in such spots might be to skewer a player -- especially such a young one -- for forsaking his league-mandated obligations, win or lose.

But this case is an exception. This is the face of the franchise clearly reaching his breaking point after a loss to his hometown team. And his actions spoke louder than any quote he could give reporters on this day.

Told about Eichel's tantrum, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma nodded over the anger described.

"I think every one of us should be," Bylsma said. "We know the situation we're in and we know how desperate we are at this point in the season to win hockey games. We should all find that desperation, that urgency and that anger."

Eichel scored the only Buffalo goal in the game, in the last minute of the second period on a Rasmus Ristolainen feed, but this was not one of his better efforts. He gave the puck away at times and was lax in the neutral zone, culminating in a lazy slashing penalty in the second period that led to Patrice Bergeron's power-play goal and a 2-0 Boston lead.

Eichel has to be frustrated playing on a line with Matt Moulson and Marcus Foligno, both of whom play a slower, grinding game. Without Sam Reinhart or Evander Kane on at least one wing, Eichel's speed is getting neutralized by his own team and that's not what a No. 2 overall draft pick expects.

Still, Buffalo's sixth loss in the last seven games hardly rests on Eichel's shoulders. Very little is going well right now.

The offense is stuck in the mud, with poor puck management killing any semblance of a speed game. The Sabres have been shut out or scored one goal 17 times, almost half their games. The bottom-six forwards contribute almost nothing, with fourth-liner Derek Grant playing the 72nd game of his NHL career without scoring a goal.

The penalty kill is last in the league, gave up a goal for the fourth straight game and succeeded at a pathetic 63.8 percent clip in December. The defense corps continues to be leaky and now the goaltending, which had been stellar the first two months, is showing similar cracks.

The Sabres have given up at least three goals for six straight games. Lehner was beaten by Frank Vatrano's snapshot at 1:28 of the first period and Buffalo never caught up. The team's starter took full responsibility for his big gaffe, allowing former Sabre Tim Schaller's backhand from the right boards to leak through him at 9:29 of the second to put Boston up 3-0.

The Sabres have won just 13 of 36 games on the season. They're last in the Eastern Conference, now 28th out of 30 teams in the NHL's overall standing and 10 points out of a playoff spot that seems like a pipe dream.

And unlike the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons, they're actually trying to win this time.

"Guys need to understand where we are in the season, where we are in the standings," said captain Brian Gionta. "We need to start making a move now. We can't continue to wait. We said before Christmas was a big week and we blew it and again this week we had two huge games coming in against these guys for that final divisional playoff spot so it's disappointing."

Things might get worse before General Manager Tim Murray decides to do anything to fix this mess. The Sabres' next two games are at New York and at Chicago -- and this disaster is about to get foisted upon the eyes of the nation. Both of those games will be televised coast to coast by NBC Sports Network.

The fans across the land might fall asleep watching the lifeless, boring hockey Bylsma's team plays most nights. There's no speed, no urgency. Nothing but limited forechecking, bad passes, bad decisions.

"Of course we're angry. We're disappointed," Lehner said. "We expect more but it feels like we're chasing it out there. It takes a lot of energy to get something going and then it doesn't take a lot for our opponents to get something. Two-on-1s, 3-on-2s, breakaways, whatever. They get a lot of good quality chances from not earning it and we have to earn everything. It seems like I can't tell you the last time we had a 2-on-1 or a breakaway."

"It's coming from our decision making with the puck," said Reinhart. "We're finding an open guy but it's not at the right time, not with the right support. When we do have success, everyone is on the same page and knows where that next play is. Everyone knows to track it down and get on that puck."

Murray is at the World Junior Championships in Montreal, watching No. 1 draft pick Alexander Nylander tear up the tournament for Sweden. You wonder if Nylander, who has struggled mightily at times in Rochester this year, and Nick Baptiste, atop the AHL goal scoring charts until last week, are looking at imminent trips to Buffalo.

You also wonder if Murray has to go outside looking for more help, be it to create a push this season or to be better ready to make one next year.

"We have to be better in this room, plain and simple," Gionta said. "It's on the guys in this room to be better. We've been better, we've shown spurts where we can do it."

This is Buffalo sports as we start 2017, with the honeymoon period long gone from Pegulaville. The Bills got eliminated from the playoffs last week and promptly fired their coach. Barring some unforseen resurrection, the Sabres are essentially toast less than halfway through their season and the kid they put the weight of their franchise on is exasperated.

#OneBuffalo indeed.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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