UNIONDALE – Jack Eichel shook his head and, unprovoked, lamented his mistake that cost the Buffalo Sabres a point Saturday afternoon.
After tying the score late in regulation, Eichel forced a pass to Sam Reinhart during the 3-on-3 overtime that resulted in Anthony Beauvillier's game-winning breakaway goal and a 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders in NYCB Live/Nassau Coliseum.
"It’s unfortunate," Eichel, who scored his 23rd goal of the season, said inside the visitors' dressing room. "It’s a tough turnover by me in the overtime there. ... It’s obviously frustrating to not get two points."
While the mistake likely bothered Eichel during the short flight to Buffalo, it did not cloud what was an otherwise encouraging performance by him and the Sabres. Eichel extended his point streak to 16 games, the longest in the National Hockey League this season, and Buffalo showed it will no longer be pushed around against a heavy, forechecking team such as the Islanders.
A pushback earned the Sabres (16-11-7) another point in the standings and a heavy dose of confidence, both significant achievements against the top defensive team in the league.
"I thought we competed our hearts out," Eichel said. "I thought we played really well. ... It’s a really, really good hockey team."
The Islanders (22-7-2) have allowed a league-best 72 goals through 31 games and improved to 19-0-1 when scoring at least three goals. They're also 13-2-1 at home and are less than one month removed from a 17-game point streak that has them second in the Metropolitan Division.
The Sabres lost to the Islanders, 1-0, Nov. 2 in KeyBank Center, however, as Eichel reminded the media Saturday afternoon, much has changed over the past six weeks. That was illustrated with almost every shift in the Sabres' offensive zone.
Buffalo had 35 shots on goal, including 13 in the third period, and long shifts wore down the Islanders. The first notable mental lapse came at 4:37 into the second period, when Brock Nelson was penalized for holding Kyle Okposo's stick in front of the net.
Victor Olofsson's slap shot from atop the right-wing circle snapped the Sabres' 0-for-8 power-play drought and tied the score, 1-1.
"I thought we were really persistent in the way we put the puck under pressure and we were disciplined through the neutral zone, getting it in behind their pressure," Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said. "They like to catch you in the neutral zone. I thought our management of the puck was really strong and then the forecheck sustained so many long shifts where we, again, couldn’t get the fruits out of that labor.
"This is an encouraging game overall for us. We stay on topic, we stay on game plan and we’ve got points in our game every night if we can do that."
With the Sabres again trailing by one goal and only 3:33 remaining in regulation, Rasmus Dahlin drew a roughing penalty after beating Islanders winger Mathew Barzal to a loose puck in the defensive zone. Krueger pulled goalie Linus Ullmark for an extra-attacker, and Eichel sent the game to overtime on a backhanded shot during a scramble in front of New York goalie Semyon Varlamov with 1:46 left in the third period.
Eichel finished with one goal and an assist for his 14th multi-point game of the season, and he had a team-high seven shots on net in 23:58 of ice time. The 23-year-old center came barreling down the ice for a 3 on 2 in overtime, only to have his pass to Reinhart intercepted.
"I think we knew what type of game it was going to be, low-scoring, tight-checking," Sabres winger Jimmy Vesey said. "They do a good job limiting the opposition. They like to run around a little bit on the forecheck. It definitely doesn’t make it easy for the other team. The last four games show the direction we’re going."
Krueger often speaks about the lessons the Sabres can learn from each loss. There were two significant mistakes that he'll use in film study ahead of their game Tuesday in Toronto.
Michael Dal Colle scored for a 1-0 Islanders lead at 5:11 into the first period when Ullmark mistakenly played the puck into the corner. That allowed Beauvillier to gain possession and send a centering pass to the front of the net. Three Sabres were beat to a loose puck on a shift when Jordan Eberle scored the go-ahead goal with 15:10 remaining in the third period.
"It was a bit of a broken play," Krueger said of the latter play. "That’s the Islanders, you give them just a little bit of a gap."
Still, the Sabres have earned points in 10 of their last 12 games and are 4-1-2 in December. They earned eight of a possible 10 points despite facing Vancouver, Edmonton, St. Louis, Nashville and the Islanders in a eight-day span.
This was also Buffalo's best special teams performance in weeks. The Sabres' power play went 2-for-3 and they killed three penalties, including three in the second period to keep the score tied. Ullmark made 23 saves while making his fourth consecutive start.
There was tangible progress from their last meeting against the Islanders, but the Sabres were unable to create enough quality scoring chances.
"I think in the month and a half it’s been since we played them last I think we’ve taken a lot of steps as a group, and we’re starting to form our identity each and every game," Eichel said. "For us to be able to match their intensity was a huge step for our group."