COLUMBUS – Dan Bylsma started answering the question before it was finished, nodding his head vigorously in agreement as he is wont to do.
Does he need to be harder on younger players – Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart for instance – to get them to understand what the identity of the Buffalo Sabres needs to be?
"You're going to hate this answer, but yes," Bylsma said on Thursday in Buffalo's HarborCenter, a day removed from a horrible performance in a 6-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers and one day before taking on the Blue Jackets here in Columbus.
Friday morning, Eichel was curt when offering his response to Bylsma's statement.
Did the second-year player, baptized as the future of the franchise, feel that his journey was more difficult with his head coach being harder on the young, skilled players?
"No, not at all," Eichel said in Nationwide Arena after the team's morning skate.
Eichel entered Friday's game on an 11-game point streak, the longest active streak in the league and one game away from tying the best streak in the NHL this season.
But there is room for his game to grow and the second-year pro had a prominent teachable moment in Tuesday's loss to the Flyers. Skating through the neutral zone, he tried to get through three Flyers but turned the puck over. Philadelphia then scored the opening goal of the game.
It was one bad play in a game full of bad plays. But Bylsma sat Eichel for a shift. The forward responded with two goals and an assist.
"Jack is a star player, no question, but he’s a young player as well and he’s got to learn that," Bylsma said. "It’s a process we’re going through. Did he miss a few shifts after that play, he did. And that’s got to be an indicator of where he’s got to be better at and our whole team needs to be better at."
Eichel understands the need to learn when to be aggressive with the puck and when to take the more conservative approach. But he's also unabashed in his offensive skills.
"I try to play the same all 60 minutes," Eichel said. "Team asked me to make that play, so I’m going to try and make it. You know if it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Obviously it’s tough when it ends up in the back of your net and you’ve got to pick and choose your spots.
"It’s my game. I think I said this a little earlier in the year. It’s tough to put handcuffs on you when they expect you to create offense and things like that. You know, I’ve got to play with the puck on my stick during the game. I know I’m going to turn the puck over at some point. It’s important to be careful where you do it and when you do it. But I’m an offensive player that creates stuff for our team. I’m going to continue to make plays."
The turnovers don't bother Bylsma. Turnovers are going to happen. It's sometimes a sign that the team is playing aggressive. But Bylsma wants Eichel to cultivate more discernment when making aggressive plays.
"I’ve implored Jack that he needs to have five turnovers a game. If he’s not having a turnover, then he’s not trying to do the right thing," Bylsma said. "There’s a time and a place and a situation for those attempts and that wasn’t a good one. But we calculate the game to have 100 turnovers, 50 aside, every game, so it’s not like we’re talking about no turnovers happening in the game. We’re going to have turnovers. Every player has probably at least one turnover in a game. That’s just a learning process that we’re going through as a group."
Eichel's career-best 11-game point streak includes five goals and 11 assists. In the time since his return on Nov. 29, he is tied for eighth among all NHL skaters with 45 points (18 goals, 27 assists) and leads the league with 188 shots on goal.
The key to his point streak lies in some classic hockey intangibles.
"I’d say just the consistency," Eichel said. "I think adding a little more grit and compete in your game and getting in corners, getting pucks back, a little more physical. Little stuff like that gives you a little more room, opens stuff up. It helps a lot when you’re playing the power play like we have. We’ve been pretty good lately with that. I just try to come ready to play every night with the same mindset of move your feet, get after the puck, get on the puck and skate."
Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky entered Friday's game tied for the league lead in wins with 35 while ranking second in save percentage (.929) and third in goals-against (2.05). More impressively, he posted three straight shutouts.
Columbus coach John Tortorella said he stays out of the way of Bobrovsky. "I don't know anything about the position," he said when meeting members of the media Friday afternoon in Nationwide Arena.
And the most impressive thing hasn't just been the saves but the way Bobrovsky has moved the puck.
"There’s no extra motion. He’s not chasing it," Tortorella said. "Quite honestly, I think one of the best parts of his game has been his puck handling. Forget about the saves that he’s made; he’s moved the puck pretty well. He’s gotten us out of problems as far as forechecking. You know how I feel – I just want him to stop the puck. I’m not going to coach him. I’m just going to try to stay out of the way."
The Buffalo Sabres Green Team will hold a hockey equipment drive at KeyBank Center beginning Saturday and running until March 31. All equipment donated will benefit Hasek's Heroes. The collection will be located outside the Sabres Store and anyone donating equipment will receive a coupon for 30 percent off at the Sabres Store.