Jack Eichel is sick of losing.
“At the end of the day it’s about one thing and one thing only, and that’s winning hockey games,” he said. “However that needs to happen, it needs to happen.”
The center is furious with the Sabres’ play and wants improvements across the board. He is equally as adamant that the season is not yet lost for the last-place club.
“I don’t think we’ve hit the halfway point yet,” Eichel said Sunday. “I’m sure not giving up on this, and I don’t think anyone else is. Have we” frittered “away some good opportunities for ourselves to put ourselves in a good position? Yes, but there’s still a lot of hockey to be played.”
A trip home from Boston and the flip of the calendar did nothing to change Eichel’s mood. He showed his anger after Saturday’s loss to the Bruins, and he voiced his irritation after practice in KeyBank Center.
“As a whole team, everyone needs to look in the mirror and we all need to get a lot better,” he said. “I think I speak for the team in saying that we’re all frustrated with where we’re at, and I don’t think I’m the only person in the locker room that’s not satisfied.”
Buffalo has sunk back into last in the Eastern Conference by going 1-4-2 in its last seven games. There are 10 points and seven teams between them and a playoff spot.
What needs to be better?
“Everything,” Eichel said. “Power play, we had a five-on three, we don’t score. It’s not good enough. Penalty kill, we continue to put pucks on the other team’s stick on the kill. It’s not good enough. Five-on-five, we don’t score enough goals either.”
An inability to score remains the Sabres’ biggest problem. They’re averaging 2.14 goals per game, tied for 29th in the NHL. In their 36 games, they have just 49 even-strength goals.
The Sabres have been without key players, including Ryan O’Reilly and Eichel, but the second-year pro doesn’t care about injury-induced line changes or anything else.
“We’re just not executing well enough,” Eichel said. “I don’t think as a group that we should be blaming what’s going on on line changes and injuries because every team deals with it. Obviously with us we’ve had some key players injured at key times in the year and have not played 100 percent as a team in the two years that I’ve been here, which is frustrating.
“This is also hockey, and injuries are going to happen. We need to find a way to get over that.”
So far, nearly every setback has led to another one. The Sabres are at their low point because all of the recent losses have come against teams directly ahead of them in the standings.
It certainly seems like the season is slipping away, but there is time to turn things around. The St. Louis Blues were last in the Western Conference on New Year’s Day during the 2008-09 season. They closed with a 27-11-7 record to make the playoffs.
Buffalo will have to do something similar. The Sabres have 34 points and need to finish in the 95-point range for a postseason chance. With 46 games left, they will have to play at a points percentage of .663. They are at .472 now with a 13-15-8 record.
“If we play how we can and we win hockey games at the rate we can, it can put us in that area where we think we’re going to need to be to be in playoff consideration,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “That’s really got to be the focus for us here.
“But it also can’t wait for another 20 games to say that same situation. We have to realize the situation we’re in now, and we’ve got to win 60 percent of our points the rest of the way out for sure.”
The schedule resumes with a two-game road trip. Buffalo visits the New York Rangers on Tuesday and the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday. The teams have a combined home record of 26-10-5.
That’s the kind of success Eichel wants for the Sabres. They haven’t had it, and his frustration level is high.
“I don’t think it’s about me,” he said. “All these guys have probably been winners their whole life. We’re a group. We’re one. We go through adversity as a team together, and the highs when we win games it’s also together.
“I think everybody here is pretty” angry “with themselves and the way things have went. We’ve got a game against New York in New York on Tuesday, another opportunity to get two points and win a game. That’s all that matters. At the end of the day, nothing really matters but winning.”