The building was quiet. The Sabres were doing good things, but nothing to get the crowd’s excitement level up.
Then Jack Eichel happened.
The rookie added yet another highlight to his rapidly growing video package Friday, opening the scoring and bringing the noise into First Niagara Center. Fans ate up the goal, and the Sabres fed off the energy in a 3-1 victory over Philadelphia.
“With the puck on his stick, it’s a little bit different electricity in the air,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “You feel the energy in the building.”
Eichel’s fourth NHL goal started with a pass from Ryan O’Reilly at center ice. As the 18,062 fans watched Eichel collect the puck at full speed with open ice in front of him, they moved forward in their seats and started making noise. The decibel level grew when Eichel suddenly stopped in the left circle to leave defenseman Evgeny Medvedev grasping at air.
With net-driving O’Reilly drawing the other defender toward him, Eichel had a clear path to the middle of the ice. He eluded the backcheck of Wayne Simmonds and fired a waist-high shot into the left side of the net.
The place went chaotic as Eichel raised his arms in celebration with 35.4 seconds to go in the first period.
“It was a good team effort in the first, and to be able to get a goal at the end of it to kind of lift us coming in, get something for all our efforts, it was kind of nice,” said Eichel, who credited O’Reilly for giving him room to maneuver. “I knew he was going to drive the net, and I figured I would try to pull up. I could kind of feel their D backing up with him driving deep. I just tried to change my angle a little bit on the goalie, getting him sliding across the net and then shoot it back to where he came from.
“It’s an old skill.”
An old skill possessed by a 19-year-old young gun with 11 games on his resume.
“It’s amazing to see the maturity on a kid like that, and that was a huge goal to get us going,” O’Reilly said.
The goal gave the players bounce to their step when they headed into intermission. They had full-on swagger when they came back out. They scored on an early power play and watched Marcus Foligno win a fight against Luke Schenn. They headed into the next intermission with a 2-0 lead and 31-14 shot advantage.
“If you leave a little space like that to Eich, he’s going to put it in,” Sabres goal-scorer Nicolas Deslauriers said. “Especially at the end of the first like that, it feels good.
“In the second, we kind of played the same way. Marcus stepped up for the boys, and you can see it was almost another gain of energy for us. We had like four, five shifts down low in their zone, and it’s just all-around probably our best game.”
“It was relentless,” O’Reilly added. “I think where we really took re-control of the game was after Marcus’ fight. He did a great job showing we’re going to war here no matter how long it’s for. We stepped up after that, and we took control of the whole game.”
The only drawback for Eichel was a postgame visit to the medical staff. After watching blood drip on the floor at the base of his locker, he headed for stitches to close a big gash on his chin. He got hit with the puck in his final shift with about 90 seconds to play.
The cut will eventually heal. The highlight of the goal will last longer.
“Maybe I should work on scoring on the road,” said Eichel, who has scored all his goals in front of the cheering fans in Buffalo. “I’ve been doing a little too much thinking, but I think I’m doing a lot of good things as the season’s gone on. I think our line has been getting better every game. I think we could have had more tonight, and it’s going to break through sooner than later for us.
“We’re doing a lot of good things right now.”