STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Jack Eichel has the skills to be a superstar. That was evident long before he scored the overtime winner Tuesday night.
One problem the Sabres have had is finding someone who can finish his passes. Eichel had 33 assists last season, and it's not a stretch to say he could have had 45 or 50. Too often, he'd dance around the opponent's zone, slip the puck through a small opening and watch his winger clank the post or fire into a pad.
Jason Pominville is providing hope he may be Eichel's much-needed finisher.
Pominville scored twice off assists from Eichel, who did everything himself for the winner. He kept the puck on a two-on-one and fired home with 25 seconds gone in overtime, delivering a 4-3 victory over Pittsburgh in Pegula Ice Arena.
"Obviously, when you give him time and space, he can make plays," Pominville said. "He ended up making a couple, which were the difference."
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) September 20, 2017
Eichel, Pominville and Evander Kane have formed the Sabres' top line during the opening days of training camp, and they showed their potential during the preseason game at Penn State. They combined for three goals and six points.
"Any player who contributes offensively, you just feel better about yourself," coach Phil Housley said. "It's good to see that they had a good game."
For Pominville, the pose remains unmistakable more than four years later.
There he was down on one knee at the side of the net, puck buried in the twine and the goal light flashing. Sabres fans loved that pose for years.
It happened again on the first goal. Eichel carried the puck to his right along the top of the zone, spotted Pominville at the left post and watched the right winger bury the pass.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) September 19, 2017
"You see his hands around the net, there's a reason he's scored as many goals as he has in this league and has been playing as long as he has," Eichel said of the 12-year veteran who has 261 career goals. "He's a really smart player, and we'll just continue to build chemistry."
Housley has said he'll try numerous line combinations throughout training camp and preseason, so there are still a few weeks before anyone gets written in ink next to Eichel. Pominville figured to fit just because of his ability to find the open areas, something that was on display during the exhibition.
"I think I can help them offensively," Pominville said. "I've had a history of being able to produce, but at the same time I think I can bring some responsibility to the line defensively and make sure that we don't get caught.
"Obviously, we want to create, but the best way to create is not playing in your own end."
It wasn't a perfect game for anyone, nor was one expected in the first appearance for most players. But the top line did enough for people to get excited.
"Who knows what it'll end up, but we kind of wanted to get going with the first game," Pominville said. "Nice playing with good players like that. I thought overall we had a pretty good night, so hopefully we can keep it going."
While Pominville's first goal was relatively easy, he had to work for the second. He deflected a puck at the top of the crease, corralled the rebound, hit the post and finally connected.
— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) September 20, 2017
"It's good to see Pommer score a couple goals," Housley said. "Really gritty around the net, finding a way to get those pucks in."
It was an impressive first game back for the longtime fan favorite. Pominville loved his time in the Sabres' organization from 2001 to 2013. He got a thrill pulling the jersey over his head again.
"It's a team that's always meant a lot to me," Pominville said. "I followed them even when I wasn't a part of the group. It's nice to be back, and it was nice for me to get in early and get to know the guys, get to know the staff.
"It's nice to get a good start, for sure, as a line, an individual, too, and as a team."