Jack Eichel slammed his stick over the boards at the end of a drill Monday morning in KeyBank Center. It's not an uncommon occurrence. Heck, Ryan O'Reilly did the same thing just a few minutes before.
It's a sign of frustration. A sign of wanting to do more. A sign of wanting the results to match the effort and of trying to will the effort to be better focused.
Eichel has gone eight games without a goal. That's not acceptable to the 21-year-old who became the face of the Buffalo Sabres franchise when the team drafted him in 2015.
He's looking to break that skid, and the Sabres are looking for a road win, when the play the defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night.
Eichel has said he needs to be better. He has four goals this season, his last coming on Oct. 21. The frustrating part is trying to stay positive, to stay simple, when the results don't show up on the scoresheet at the end of the game.
"It's weird. I think early in the year, you get some bounces and you're getting a couple points and then you go through a stretch where you think you're playing pretty good," Eichel said, naming games against San Jose, Arizona, Dallas and Washington as instances where he played well, but didn't score.
"That stretch of games where you think you're doing good things. You're getting opportunities. You're not finding anything. You're not getting rewarded on the stat sheet. But you know you're doing good things so you're staying positive and I think that was kind of the case with me. I felt like my game was good, but I wasn't being rewarded. Obviously in the last few games ... you're going to go through ups and downs and I'm just fighting the puck, doing a little too much thinking."
In the first nine games of the season, Eichel had four goals and seven assists. His goal-scoring slump started Oct. 24 against Detroit. In those eight games, he has three assists.
For his part, when Phil Housley met with the media Monday morning, he wasn't too concerned about Eichel's lack of production because the coach sees positive work from his star center away from the puck. And forcing your game, well, that's usually a recipe to never find your game.
"Jack is creating so I’m not worried about the offensive part of his game," Housley said. "I think he's doing really good things away from the puck. He's got to just take what the game gives him. When you start searching for things, those are the times things get turned back on you. I don't know if it's gripping the stick. I think he's trying to do the right things. He means well. He's just got to continue to work through it."
On Monday, Eichel again skated with Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart, a trio that loves playing together. And while Eichel said he doesn't put any more pressure on himself than any other player in the NHL does, he is certainly aware of what he needs to do – put the puck in the net on a frequent and consistent basis.
"I feel like people are judged based off statistics so frequently," Eichel said. "So is the case with our league. For a reason. That's my job. My job is to produce. I haven't obviously produced in the fashion that I would have liked early in the year but it's a long season. The puck luck, the bounces, that sort of thing, they're coming around. You know when you're playing good and getting your chances it's obviously a positive. It's just in those games when you are playing well and you have it and you're feeling it and pucks are coming to you, it's important to make sure you're burying your chances."
So how does he get out of his funk? "Just get back to playing – moving my feet, doing things that make me successful," Eichel said. "Just try to get engaged mentally and physically pretty early in the game. That's all I’m going to try to do tomorrow. Just try to help us be successful."
Story topics: Jack Eichel