VANCOUVER – Jack Eichel is headed to his first All-Star Game this weekend, and he'll arrive in Tampa Bay as one of the hottest players in the NHL. As exciting as that is, the Buffalo Sabres center isn't looking ahead.
"We have one more," Eichel said.
It's a big one.
It's been almost a year since the Sabres won three games in a row. Now they have a chance to do it on one four-day road trip. After impressive victories in Calgary and Edmonton, Buffalo will visit Vancouver on Thursday with winning on its mind.
"It's a great opportunity for us to come out west on this Canada road trip and go 3 for 3," Eichel said.
It's an unexpected opportunity. The Sabres were minor-league level Saturday in a 7-1 loss to Dallas. Even the most optimistic die-hard would have been hard-pressed to believe Buffalo could fly across the continent and roll to three straight road victories.
Yet here they are with only the Canucks left in their way.
"To get a three-game streak here would be obviously big for confidence," center Evan Rodrigues said Wednesday after a short, optional practice in Rogers Arena. "It shows we're taking steps in the right direction at this point."
The steps have been huge. From the top to the bottom of the lineup, from forward to defense to goaltender, from puck drop to final horn, the Sabres have been a downright good NHL team. They gutted out a 2-1 overtime victory Monday in Calgary, and they dismantled Edmonton, 5-0, Tuesday.
"Obviously, like we showed the last few nights, it can be done," left wing Scott Wilson said. "We've just got to continue that."
Consistency has long been absent for the Sabres. This is only the second time all season they've won two straight, matching back-to-back wins over Boston and Detroit in October. They topped out at three in a row three times last season, picking up a trio of victories in October-November, January and February.
That's a long wait to do it again.
"We've really been trying to make strides in the right direction, just playing good hockey and not even worrying about the result," Wilson said, "just kind of getting back to doing the little things right and trying to play for a full 60. We've realized that the good teams are able to not just play two periods or one good period of hockey. It's got to be 60 minutes every day."
There haven't been any passengers for the Sabres this week, which is why they're winning. But it helps to have someone in the driver's seat, and that is undoubtedly Eichel.
The center had one goal and three assists against the Oilers, running his season totals to 20 goals, 29 assists and 49 points in 48 games. He joined Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin and Thomas Vanek as the only Sabres to score 20 goals in each of their first three seasons. With one more assist, Eichel will join Perreault, Martin, Phil Housley and Christian Ruuttu as the only Sabres to record 30 assists and 50 points in each of their first three seasons.
Eichel is riding a seven-game point streak, piling up five goals, nine assists and 14 points. In his last 16 games, Eichel has 12 goals and 25 points – the best numbers in the NHL since Dec. 15.
"Jack's been leading us in the right way," Housley said. "He's playing well at both ends. His defensive responsibilities, he's taken that to heart. When he gets an opportunity to use his speed through the neutral zone and attack the game, he's done a terrific job.
"He's creating offensively. He's tough to play against in the offensive zone. He uses his body really well, and he's finding the net. Also, his linemates are doing a good job of creating space for him."
Eichel, left wing Zemgus Girgensons and right wing Kyle Okposo have been monsters on this trip, combining for three goals, five assists and 16 shots in two games.
"It's just playing for each other, competing – the things we should have been doing all year," Girgensons said. "It makes a big difference when everyone is on the same page and works for each other."
The big difference is winning. The Sabres had just 11 victories in their opening 46 games. They could vault to 14 in one short, three-game trip to western Canada.
"It's fun to win games," Rodrigues said. "It's fun to score goals. When you play responsible and you compete, you get the results."
Story topics: Jack Eichel