Evan Rodrigues wanted to keep things simple, win his battles and get to the front of the net.
Thursday night, he did that. And got rewarded.
Rodrigues had a goal and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres pulled out a 4-3 win over the New York Islanders in KeyBank Center.
It was a sparkling debut for the new line which reunited Rodrigues (left wing) and Jack Eichel (center) with Sam Reinhart (right wing). The line accounted for three goals and the chemistry is exactly what the Sabres, and Rodrigues, were hoping for.
"They're easy to play with and I thought we had a pretty good game," Rodrigues said. "It was easy to read off each other. We were supporting each other all over the ice and supporting whoever had the puck but at the same time we were getting to the net. The even-strength goals were right in front of the net and we did a good job of burying our chances."
While Rodrigues and Eichel have played here and there together over their first three professional seasons, this was the first time they were on the same line since their college days at Boston University.
They played on the same line for the second semester of the 2014-15 season as the Terriers rolled into the National Championship game as the favorite, but fell to Providence, 4-3. Rodrigues was in his senior season. Eichel was playing his only season of NCAA hockey.
"We knew where each other were all over the ice," Rodrigues said of their Boston University days. "We just seemed to click and seemed to be able to make plays without looking. We had a mutual respect for each other and just happened to make plays.
"I think the one thing that makes (Eichel) so great is he always seems to be in an open area. I've just got to make sure I'm putting it in good spots for him to skate into the puck and let him use his speed to create chances. When he has the puck, just try to find open areas so he can make plays as well."
Sabres head coach Phil Housley reunited Rodrigues and Eichel, along with Reinhart, in an effort to find some offensive chemistry on a team desperately searching for some good showings.
Eichel scored on the team's first shot of the game and Rodrigues followed that up with his tally on the team's second shot.
"That's a good start, right, you get two goals right off the bat on two shots," Housley said. "I'm really happy for Evan finally getting a goal and hopefully that will boost his confidence. I really liked that line. It really mixed well tonight."
Confidence is something Rodrigues could use. He missed training camp and the first part of the season with a hand injury but burst into the Sabres lineup with a series of solid games. When he joined the club on Dec. 5 against the Colorado Avalanche, he was ready to go. He had a two-goal night in his third game back against St. Louis and looked like a solid, steady competitor.
But his game slipped. He was a healthy scratch on Feb. 1 and has been working to refocus on the things that can make him an effective player for the Sabres.
Housley said Rodrigues needed to get the urgency back in his game and play with more of a "take-charge mentality."
He showed that on Thursday with his first goal since that two-goal burst in St. Louis on Dec. 10 and just his third multi-point game of the season.
"I was starting to press a bit," Rodrigues said. "Obviously it's in the back of my mind and sometimes I almost forced things. I continue to remind myself just to play simple and let my offensive instincts just take over and if I'm working hard, winning one-on-one battles, that's usually when you'll catch a break.
"You kind of take a step back and sometimes you have to do that to take a step forward. That's what I’m trying to do here. It's good to regroup. Watching it from the stands, you pick things from the game and again going to try to play simple, make plays when I can, just make sure I'm winning all my one-on-one battles."
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Jake McCabe has joined Zach Bogosian on the long-term injured list.
The Buffalo defenseman underwent thumb surgery and will miss up to a month, the Sabres announced Thursday. McCabe was injured by a shot during the first period of Tuesday's overtime loss to Anaheim.
McCabe had played in all 53 games for the Sabres, recording three goals and 12 points.
Bogosian had hip surgery last month and is done for the season, leaving the Sabres without two of their top four defensemen.
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Speaking of Bogosian, the defenseman remains active with his community service project, announcing his plans for the Zach Bogosian Kancer Jam, a KanJan tournament with proceeds benefiting Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The tournament, which will feature 64 two-person teams, will take place on the floor of KeyBank Center after the Sabres 1 p.m. game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday, March 10. Participants must raise at least $1,000, either through donating their own money or raising funds from family and friends, at the online site www.crowdrise.com/bogoskancerjam.
Each fundraising team will be paired with a Sabres player or celebrity and will compete in at least three games against other teams featuring Sabres personalities. The top fundraisers for the event will get to select their Sabres teammate and will win other prizes.
Participants also will receive an autographed Zach Bogosian Kancer Jam set, custom credentials to the tournament and two gift bags composed of Kancer Jam and Sabres merchandise. All participants will also get exclusive access to a pre-tournament hospitality area, which will include complimentary food and drink and a chance to meet the Sabres personalities taking part in the event.