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Sabres' new top line is a strong LA undercard for 'The King'

LOS ANGELES — As a new top forward line goes, the Buffalo Sabres could not have asked for anything more.

It was born in practice Friday and coach Phil Housley thought things looked good. Under the bright lights of Saturday — as the undercard in Staples Center to LeBron James' home debut for the Los Angeles Lakers — the Blue and Gold's top trio was a slam dunk.

Jeff Skinner notched his fifth career hat trick and first with Buffalo. Jack Eichel had three assists and was playing keepaway with the puck all afternoon. Jason Pominville had a goal and two assists in the process collecting his 700th career point.

It added up to a 5-1 Buffalo rout of the Los Angeles Kings, the Sabres' first win at Staples since 2003.

After clunkers in Vegas and San Jose, the Sabres could pump their chests out and feel good again after what Eichel correctly rated as easily their best all-around game of the season. They're 4-4 on the season and 2-2 on this daunting road trip, which ends Sunday in Anaheim.

Eichel, of course, is the engine that drives this team. When he's not that noticeable (see the last two games), the Sabres struggle. When he's attacking the net and controlling play like Saturday, everyone follows.

"One of the best games overall, right?" coach Phil Housley said when asked about his captain. "From coming out of our own end, forechecking, attacking off the rush. Our movement was so good today. It's very evident when we move the puck and it's crisp, we're a fast team."

Eichel almost single-handedly worked the puck into the Los Angeles zone for the game's first goal and got four different whacks at it in front of goaltender Jonathan Quick. His last one had it going toward the goal and it hit Pominville's skate, giving the Sabres the lead at 10:24 that they would never relinquish.

"He's dominant, so tough to play against," Skinner said. "When you're playing on his wing, you've got to be ready. Sometimes you think they're going to break out and somehow he wins the puck back and you find it on your tape when you open your eyes.

"He did a great job today winning battles, being strong on the forecheck and we were able to generate offense because of it."

Skinner's signature goal was his first one, at 3:31 of the second period. Most wingers who get a little room curling around the goal simply try for the quick wraparound. Skinner is a three-time 30-goal scorer in part because of nuance.

A couple pushes of the skate got him to the front of the net, keeping space from chasing forward Nate Thompson. His quick shot then beat Jonathan Quick.

"That guy was on my hip a little so if I tried to wrap it he may have had it covered," Skinner said. "You try to pull it out there and I know Pommer is on the back side so if it doesn't go in maybe there's a rebound. Just try to get pucks to the net and fortunately there's a goal."

Pominville assisted on Skinner's first two goals, with a true wraparound at 15:52 of the second providing the 700th point of his career. Eichel made sure to grab the puck for safekeeping.

"Unbelievable accomplishment. It's incredible really," Eichel said. "He's had a heck of a career and it was great to see him get that."

"I've been fortunate to stick in the league," said Pominville, who was drafted 55th overall by the Sabres in 2001 and will play his 1,000th career game Nov. 1 in Ottawa. "I've had to work hard to be in the league and stick around. It's definitely rewarding. A nice number to hit.

"Hopefully there's more to come. I knew I was close to it and Eichs was good enough to go get the puck. I'll keep that one for sure."

Sabres Notebook: Defense puts Kings' offense at rest

Pominville was playing well on the fourth line with Evan Rodrigues and Zemgus Girgensons, creating pressure in the offensive zone. Even at age 35, he has the speed to stay with Eichel and Skinner. Housley noticed that too and made the move.

"He's a guy that plugs away every day and it's good for young guys to see that too," said defenseman Zach Bogosian. "As professional as he is, he's a good example for the younger players and to see him get rewarded with 700 is awesome for him."

"Both my goals came off the cycle and Pommer's goal off the rush but it's sort of about being hard at the net," Skinner said. "All six 'D' did a great job being up on the play making it hard for them to break out and that's when you're going to have success."

The Kings were down by three goals so they pulled Quick with four minutes to go. Getting Skinner a hat trick became an instant point of emphasis and it happened with 24.9 seconds to go.

His previous four, of course, came with Carolina, the last being Dec. 15, 2015 at Philadelphia.

" 'Skinny' was really solid," Housley said. "He was really hungry for the puck around the net. It was good to see him finish the hat trick."

It was a performance befitting the spotlight that was shining on downtown LA all day as LeBron was set to step out in Purple and Gold.

"I think he'll probably do a better job," said a smiling Skinner. "It was just nice to get a win for us."

Said Eichel: "A pretty good performance. I think 'The King' is going to have to do pretty good to beat him."

The Wraparound: Sabres 5, Kings 1

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