Jack Eichel can achieve something that hasn’t been done since Jimmy Griffin was Buffalo’s mayor. Rasmus Ristolainen and the Sabres’ penalty killers are among the others who can end droughts with solid performances during the final two games.
Eichel is second in rookie scoring with 54 points, behind only Artemi Panarin of Chicago (74). The Sabres haven’t had a player finish in the top two among rookies since Ray Sheppard in 1987-88. Sheppard’s 65 points trailed the 92 put up by Calgary’s Joe Nieuwendyk.
Eichel’s point total is ninth on the Sabres’ all-time rookie list and the most since Derek Plante recorded 56 in 1993-94. Eichel leads the Sabres with 24 goals and could become the first rookie to pace the team since Sheppard put up 38.
Ristolainen ranks tied for 21st in scoring among NHL defensemen. No Sabres blue-liner has been in the top 25 since Tyler Myers was 11th in 2009-10.
Buffalo’s penalty killers have risen to eighth in the league after a slow start. The team hasn’t ranked in the top 10 since finishing second overall in 2009-10.
Allowing fewer goals while penalized has given the Sabres a big boost in overall goals allowed. They gave up the second-most goals last season but are tied for 17th this year. It’s their best showing since allowing the fourth-fewest in 2009-10.
The Sabres’ power play hasn’t been as successful, but it’s in the top half of the league for the first time in six seasons. Buffalo is tied for 13th after ranking 30th, 29th and 27th during the previous three years. The unit was No. 8 in 2010-11.
The power play has given the Sabres a minimal bump in scoring. After ranking 30th during the past two years, Buffalo heads into the final weekend at No. 25.
In one season, the Sabres’ goal differential has improved from minus-113 to minus-19. That can be attributed to allowing way fewer shots. Buffalo’s Corsi rating last season was minus-1,789. This year, it’s minus-366.
Those improvements have, of course, moved the Sabres up the standings. They finished 30th overall the previous two seasons and are 22nd now. They can finish as high as 19th and as low as 24th.
Buffalo had just 29 regulation and overtime wins during the previous two seasons combined. The Sabres are at 32 this year. At 34-35-11 overall, they’re hoping to finish above a .500 points percentage. The Sabres’ season reaches its finale this weekend with Friday’s home game against Columbus and Saturday’s visit to the New York Islanders.
Chris Drury was one of USA Hockey’s more decorated players. Now he’ll help the organization off the ice.
Drury will be part of the management group for the 2016 U.S. men’s world championship team, USA Hockey announced Wednesday. The advisory group also includes Chicago General Manager Stan Bowman, Los Angeles GM Dean Lombardi, New Jersey GM Ray Shero and Nashville GM David Poile.
The tournament will be played next month in Russia. Eichel skated for the U.S. team last spring and is a candidate to do so again this year. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma was an assistant for the bronze-medal winners.
Drury played in three Olympics for the United States and was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in November. After retiring in 2011, the former Sabres center walked away from the game to focus on his family. He returned this season to take a player development role with the New York Rangers.
The Sabres, who took Wednesday off, have sent Justin Bailey back to Rochester. The rookie, called up on an emergency basis Tuesday because of illnesses and injuries to the forwards, returned to the Amerks after watching the 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils. Buffalo didn’t use Bailey after Ryan O’Reilly, Brian Gionta and Eichel were able to play.