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Mike Harrington: Talk is cheap, so Sabres cash in with hard work

They were dogged by their fans, pounded by the media both in Buffalo and out of town and given multiple tsk-tsks by their coaching staff for their weak play during a seven-game losing streak.

So the Sabres have to be hoping they found a seminal moment after Wednesday's loss to Minnesota when newcomer but two-time Stanley Cup champion Jordan Nolan aired some dirty laundry by pointing out there was little accountability among players in the dressing room.

It needed to be said. The door was closed for several minutes after that game and it sounds like people were in other people's faces about what was going on.

Work harder. Show some pride. Follow the game plan. Talk is cheap. Go do it.

The Sabres sure did Friday night by posting a full-marks 3-1 win over Edmonton, a team that must be driving its owns fans crazy with a complete epic-fail of a season that many predicted to end in the Stanley Cup final.

Sabres shift gears, follow each other to hard-working win

Eichel, whose game is getting progressively better each night, knew what he took from Nolan's words.

"I just think we should stop feeling sorry for ourselves, complaining or making excuses for what's going on," he said after the morning skate. "We just need to come together and work harder. I think that's always the key to success. Things aren't going right, start preparing better and working harder off the ice. Things usually translate."

There's no question the Sabres were the harder-working team Friday night. The Oilers were sleepwalking through most of the game. It's hard to fathom how slow they've gotten just a few months after taking Anaheim to Game 7 of the second round.

Jacob Josefson's goal was about nothing but outworking the opponent. Think Rasmus Ristolainen was ready to come back? He played 27:32, had two assists, was plus-2, had five shots on goal, three hits and six blocks.

Then there's Eichel. He got a gift goal in the second period when Edmonton backup Laurent Brossoit flubbed an easy shot from the wall. But that belies how Eichel probably deserved a goal in this game for the willingness he showed to keep firing the puck, something he's been too reticent about much of the season.

Eichel keep going high and wide on the power play -- three times, in fact, in the first period -- but was undeterred. Eichel finished the game 8-2 on faceoffs, made a terrific play to corral Darnell Nurse and break up a 2-on-1 in the first period and also drilled Leon Draisaitl with a good hit in the second.

It was a 200-foot effort that far exceeded what flu-ridden Connor McDavid gave the Oilers on this night. McDavid had almost no impact offensively and was 0-8 on faceoffs.

"In the last three games, Jack has played really well," said coach Phil Housley. "He's made a choice that he was trying to play the right way. He's been physical, active in the offensive zone and bringing his speed . ... He's getting a lot more looks right now because of the way he's working. You can see he's very determined right now."

"It's a desperation game for us," Eichel said. "We needed to make a statement to ourselves and it's good to win a game at home."

Asked to delve into his play more, Eichel simply spoke about teammates. About how the hard work of Jacob Josefson and Kyle Okposo on their newly formed line is paying dividends. About how Ristolainen made instant impact on defense.

"I thought a lot of guys showed desperation tonight," Eichel said. " Seeing the way we can play tonight, it should be a bit of a boost to everybody in the room, a bit of confidence. When we play the right way and do the right things, it's rewarded. We just have to find that consistency."

Edmonton has the same feeling. Except for McDavid, the Oilers are one slow, plodding team. Except for No. 97, there's little offense. McDavid has 28 points in 23 games but how much can he do by himself here?

After the morning skate, McDavid was as solemn as most of us have ever seen him. You watched the game and you understood why. This team is terrible.

"We're learning about going through this," McDavid said. "A lot of guys in this room, myself included, haven't gone the other way where we've expected to be good and we weren't very good. That's a new thing for a lot of guys. Like anyone else, it's not fun. It's not fun to come to the rink and lose. Not fun."

Afterward, McDavid was even more morose about things.

"We were just sloppy, he said. "It just felt like we were never really in sync, anyone at anytime. Those little passes that are usually easy to make we just didn’t complete them.”

Housley has had to try a lot of different avenues with his team so far. Beg, borrow, cajole, do whatever he can to get the message across. He was happy it got through Friday but his next thought was quick: Can it get through Saturday in Montreal too?

"It's great to see the group in there sort of has their backs up against the wall right now in this time of the season and they're trying to work it out," Housley said. "It shows a lot of care level in that room. I think they have to work it out together."

 

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