Jack Eichel knows what got him to the NHL. He’s an offensive player who thrives on speed and creativity.
He’s not going to change because of turnovers or perceived criticism.
“Whether it's minute one or minute 60, I'm going to play the same exact way,” the Sabres center said Monday. “We’re all in the NHL for a reason. We all built our identity at a younger age. We're here. We do something very well, and that's why we play in the NHL. Whatever that is, just try to bring that to the rink every day.
“I'm a guy that needs to produce offensively. I need to play a 200-foot game and make a difference for this team. Whether it's in our own zone or setting somebody up or scoring a goal, that's what I'm looked at for. I'm a creative player. I take risks trying to make plays. That's how I've always been.”
The thing with risks is sometimes they don’t pay off. During the first period of Sunday’s 4-2 loss to Vancouver, Eichel tried to stickhandle next to the Buffalo net. The Canucks knocked the puck away and scored.
“Obviously, a big part of my game is carrying the puck and what I create when I have it on my stick,” Eichel said in KeyBank Center, “so I think you're going to make mistakes, you're going to turn pucks over. It's just how you respond. Unfortunately, that one ended up in the back of our net. Just try to learn from it and be better.”
After the game, goaltender Robin Lehner took the whole team to task. At one point, it seemed he criticized Eichel’s play.
“We have a structure, but we don’t play it,” Lehner said Sunday. “Let’s do another deke, let’s do another play. Get out of our zone? No, let’s do the fancy thing.”
The goalie said Monday he was not singling out Eichel.
“People can assume whatever they want,” Lehner said. “I didn’t name anyone. I said a lot as we. It’s not about them. It’s not about Jack’s line. It’s not about me. It’s not about Rasmus Ristolainen. It’s about all of us as a team.
“Jack is our best player. End of story. When he’s going, we’re all going. When he’s not going, we’ve got to have other guys going. We’ve got to help each other out.
“I would never put anyone in the spotlight. That’s never what I said. At the end of the day, it was a team loss. It wasn’t a line loss. It wasn’t an individual loss. I think we were all flat, and that’s from everyone.”
Even if the criticism was directed at Eichel, the 20-year-old shrugged it off.
“We've just got to put our nose to the grindstone here and start working,” he said. “We've got to stop blaming each other, blaming whatever we're blaming. Just come to the rink every day, enjoy the fact that you play in the NHL.
“I'm more than past just getting worked up about it.”
While Eichel’s first-period decision was costly, a few plays in the second period showed why he has an aggressive mindset. He carried the puck into the Vancouver zone twice during the opening minute, and Buffalo got scoring chances on both.
For nearly everyone else in the period, the results were dump the puck in and lose it; try a long pass and miss; or carry the puck and turn it over.
Coach Dan Bylsma admitted it’s a balancing act for Eichel.
“Even if you make that play, it doesn’t mean it’s a good one,” he said of the net-side stickhandling. “That’s a little bit of the balance when you’re talking about puck management and executing and having the freedom with the puck. It’s the balance of understanding the time, the place and the situation the team is in.”
Eichel said he’ll learn from it as he turned his focus toward Tuesday’s game in Ottawa.
“There's definitely areas of my game I need to clean up,” he said. “I need to get better in my own zone. I need to be more responsible. Maybe my timing coming out of our zone. There's obviously areas of my game I need to get better at. It's a work in progress with our whole team, and I'm the same way.”
The Sabres’ blue line may get a boost. Zach Bogosian, who has missed five games with a rib injury, made the trip to Ottawa.
“I’m mentally getting ready for the game,” Bogosian said after taking part in an optional skate. “It’s been feeling a lot better. I got some contact in at practice, so that was really the last test for me. The contact was what was kind of holding me back a little bit.
“All that checked out today, so we’ll just see how it goes and have a conversation with the trainers and coach and go from there.”
Injured forwards Zemgus Girgensons (full body) and William Carrier (knee) did not make the trip. Neither has been skating.
Tyler Ennis is an entrepreneur who is bringing a condiment to the dinner table. The winger and the Sabres have introduced “Enzo Sauce,” a hot sauce/ranch hybrid created by Ennis.
“I made my own special blend of hot sauce and creamy buttermilk ranch, which turned out to be a winning combination,” Ennis said. “Before long, teammates, friends and neighbors were asking for more sauce, and I decided it was time to make it official.”
Introducing ENZO SAUCE! 🍝
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) February 13, 2017
The 12-ounce jar features a caricature of Ennis, who is wearing a hockey helmet and chef’s hat. An autographed jar is available for $20 at EnzoSauce.com or at Dave and Adam’s Card World on Sheridan Drive in Williamsville. The product is also available at Tops Markets and Wegmans.
A portion of the proceeds will benefit Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the Matt Cook Foundation, an organization that makes life more normal for young adults as they fight cancer.
Enzo Sauce will be available in KeyBank Center during Saturday’s game against St. Louis. Ennis will sign autographs and promote the sauce from 6-7:15 p.m. Friday in Wegmans on Transit Road in Williamsville, and in the Tops on Transit Road in Depew from 6-7:15 p.m. March 3.