PITTSBURGH – Sidney Crosby’s dual-threat status is what puts him on a short list for best player in the NHL. The Penguins’ captain leads the league in goals, and he’s perennially among the leaders in assists.
“If you get 50 goals, you’re a goal scorer,” Buffalo coach Dan Bylsma said Sunday. “If you get 60 assists, you’re a playmaker. I think he’s done both of those things.”
With the Sabres visiting Crosby and the Penguins on Sunday, it was an opportunity to envision the type of player Jack Eichel will be. The Sabres’ second-year star extended his point streak to 10 games with a goal in PPG Paints Arena. He has three goals and 10 assists during the run.
Will the 20-year-old continue to primarily be a playmaker? Or will he become a feared sniper?
The dream, of course, is that he mimics Crosby and does both.
“Really for him the progression is, is he going to decide whether he’s going to be a 35-goal scorer or 40-goal scorer, or a guy who gets 30 goals and 50 assists?” Bylsma said. “He can be any one of those players.”
Since Nov. 29, when he made his season debut, Eichel is tied for the 10th in the NHL with 42 points, scoring 16 goals and adding 26 assists. He had 10 shots in the 4-3 loss to the Penguins and leads the league with 185 since his return from injury.
“We’re imploring Jack to develop his shot as a weapon and to use it,” Bylsma said. “I think he’s done a better job of doing that. It’s something that we can continue to do better.”
As expected, defenseman Dmitry Kulikov did not join the Sabres on their trip after getting hurt Saturday night. A source says Kulikov has a concussion, but Bylsma merely said the defenseman is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.
Justin Falk took Kulikov’s spot in the lineup and skated with Zach Bogosian. It was Falk’s 42nd game but first since Feb. 16.
“I’ve been in this situation before where I’ve been out an extended period of time,” Falk said. “You take advantage of the times you’re able to get on the ice, especially with the team, because in the second half of the year full practices become rare. You work hard. You stay mentally positive so that you’re being productive when you’re on the ice.”
Falk has played in just seven of the 15 games since he signed a one-year contract extension.
“It does definitely make things a little bit easier when you go through a stretch of being out of the lineup, having that in the back of your mind that there’s a bit of stability there,” Falk said, “but you always want to play. You always want to be part of the solution of things and be looked at as a piece of the puzzle.
“It’s kind of what I wanted to bring here to showcase to the new eyes, to bring some consistency and some reliability on the back end. That’s what I told them I was going to bring, and hopefully that’s what I’ve done.”
The Penguins have taken three big hits on the back end, losing Kris Letang, Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley. It’s given former Sabres defenseman Chad Ruhwedel an opportunity, and he’s taken advantage.
Ruhwedel has two goals, four points and a plus-5 rating in 19 games with Pittsburgh. He skated on the third pairing with Ian Cole.
“I know we’ve got a lot of D,” Ruhwedel said. “I’m not oblivious to that, but I’ve got to do everything I can on a nightly basis to try and earn a spot.”
Ruhwedel spent four seasons in the Sabres’ organization after being signed as a college free agent in the spring of 2013. He appeared in one game with Buffalo last season and had 10 goals and 26 points in 59 games with Rochester.
“I had a good experience in Buffalo,” Ruhwedel said. “The team had a couple of rough seasons while I was there, which wasn’t the most fun. But I’ve very grateful for them giving me my first NHL opportunity.”