Jack Eichel had an assist Saturday night, giving the Sabres their longest individual point streak in seven seasons. The fans in KeyBank Center thought he deserved a chance at a goal, too.
“What did they think the penalty was, the fact he threw his stick?” Eichel said.
Yes, that would be the reason.
With just 35 seconds left and the Sabres tied with Tampa Bay, 1-1, Eichel bolted up the right side with the puck. Victor Hedman, one of the better defensemen in the NHL, couldn’t keep up. As Eichel cut toward the net, Hedman lost/tossed his stick at the puck and tackled the center.
No goal. No penalty. The fans booed the referees lustily, then watched the Lightning hand Buffalo a 2-1 shootout loss.
“It’s tough to make the call in that position,” Eichel said. “We were both battling with whatever it was, 15 seconds left in the game.”
Eichel’s assist on Ryan O’Reilly’s power-play goal extended his point streak to nine games, the longest active run in the NHL. He has two goals and 10 helpers during the streak.
His career-best streak is the longest for Buffalo since Tim Connolly rattled off points in 16 straight games during the 2009-10 season.
Despite missing the opening 21 games with an ankle injury, Eichel is closing in on the team points lead. He has 15 goals, 26 assists and 41 points, just two behind Buffalo front-runners O’Reilly and Kyle Okposo.
Eichel has 26 points in his last 23 games, recording seven goals and 19 assists.
“I play on a really good power play, so I get a chance every night to get a point,” Eichel said. “I’m just trying to use my speed, play a little more tenacious. Just get around the puck more and good things happen.”
The Sabres are going to be without Okposo for a while. The right winger suffered a rib injury Thursday, and the X-rays were not good.
“He’s week-to-week at this point in time,” coach Dan Bylsma said in KeyBank Center. “I hope that can be re-evaluated and get a better result after we go through seven to 10 days.”
Okposo exited the lineup with 19 goals and 24 assists in 63 games.
“It’s a big loss,” Bylsma said. “He’s obviously a top-line guy and on our power play, our leading point-getter. It’s a big loss, one we experienced when he went out of the game there. It jumbled the lines to get guys in the right spot with him out of the lineup.
“For the next little bit here, we’re going to have to deal with it.”
Dmitry Kulikov’s rough season took another hit Saturday. The defenseman departed with an upper-body injury after a big collision.
Kulikov, Buffalo blue-liner Cody Franson and the Lightning duo of Tyler Johnson and Braydon Coburn went for the puck behind the Sabres’ net. Franson hit Coburn into Kulikov, who took the brunt of the blow near his head.
He left with 5:33 left in the first and never returned. Bylsma had no further update on Kulikov's condition.
Teams get just four recalls following the trade deadline. The Sabres have already used two on forwards Justin Bailey and Evan Rodrigues, who went down to Rochester on Wednesday in a paper transaction. Rather than use a third recall with Okposo out, Bylsma called on Nicolas Deslauriers to play after sitting the previous four.
The Sabres will complete a two-game weekend when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins at 5 p.m. Sunday. The NHL’s goal-scoring leader will be waiting.
Sidney Crosby tops the league with 34 goals, and he’s second in points with 69 in 57 games. Odds are against those totals staying the same.
Crosby has recorded at least a point in 29 of his 32 games against the Sabres. He has 15 goals, 35 assists and 50 points versus Buffalo. His former coach is aware.
“For years I got the questions, ‘Is he playing as good as he ever has? Is he not playing as good as he ever has? Is he better now than he was two years ago?’” Bylsma said of the 29-year-old. “You watch him play the game, and I think it’s tough not saying he’s the best player in the game right now with how he’s playing, the consistency with which he’s playing.”
The Sabres are just 2-8-1 in their last 11 games against the Penguins. Pittsburgh has won the last four meetings in PPG Paints Arena.
"They have a good, young team," Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist said of Buffalo. "They're right on the bubble for a wild-card spot, so they're going to be desperate. We have to match their urgency out there."