Surging Sabres not fearing repeat of last year’s collapse

Eichel's overtime goal seals Sabres' 4-3 win over Sharks

WBEN Newsroom
October 22, 2019 - 10:05 pm

AP Photo

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN/AP) — Jack Eichel capped a two-goal, two-assist game by scoring 3:13 into overtime to lead the Buffalo Sabres to a 4-3 win over the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night.

The Eastern Conference-leading Sabres overcame a 2-0 first-period deficit and responded after San Jose's Erik Karlsson tied the game with 8:33 remaining in regulation.

Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart also scored for the Sabres, who improved to 8-1-1 and matched their second-best start to a season previously set twice. Carter Hutton stopped 25 shots and the Sabres completed a home-and-home sweep of the Sharks following a 4-3 win at San Jose on Saturday.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Dylan Gambrell also scored for the Sharks who at 3-5-1 matched their worst start since 2005-06. Martin Jones stopped 25 shots, and had little chance on Eichel's decisive goal.

With the Sharks caught making a line change, Buffalo's Casey Mittelstadt fed Rasmus Ristolainen up the left boards to set up a two-on-one break.

Jones stopped Ristolainen's initial shot, but was unable to control the rebound. Eichel crashed the net from the right and jammed in the loose puck.

The goal was allowed to stand after a video review showed there was no goaltender interference.

The Sabres, who opened 8-1-1 in both 1975-76 and 2009-10, are also off to a 5-0 start at home, one short of the team record set in 1975-76.

With a new coach, an influx of talent and this being a new season, Jack Eichel doesn’t buy into fears the hot-starting Buffalo Sabres are due for a familiar collapse.

Nine games in, the Sabres are leading the Eastern Conference. And yet, it’s difficult to forget what happened last year, when Buffalo was leading the NHL with a 17-6-2 record following a 10-game winning streak before proceeding to win just 16 of its final 57 games.

“I think we’ve grown up a little bit,” Eichel said Tuesday before the Sabres hosted the San Jose Sharks. “I don’t think we’re guarded at all. I think you can learn a lot from last year, but I don’t think we’re worried about that as much as just trying to be a good hockey team every night.”

Aside from returning players being a year older, the Sabres captain credited first-year coach Ralph Krueger for introducing an upbeat message and simplified system to a team that struggled during Phil Housley’s two-year tenure.

“I think it’s enjoyable to come to the rink every day with the environment that’s been created right now,” Eichel said.

“Yeah, winning takes care of a lot of stuff, there’s no way to sugarcoat that,” he added. “But I think the overall environment’s been a good one this year. I think guys feel a little bit more relaxed. It’s not as high strung.”

The 60-year-old Krueger in many ways is Housley’s polar opposite. Where Housley demanded the Sabres play a complex positional system, Krueger wants his players to play a more up-tempo, free-wheeling style.

Though Housley is a Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman and was a first-time coach, Krueger brings with him an array of worldly experience. His resume includes coaching Switzerland’s national team, the Edmonton Oilers and spending the previous five years running soccer’s Southampton FC of the English Premier League.

Krueger was hired in May, and became Buffalo’s fifth coach since Lindy Ruff was fired a month into the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, and takes over a team in the midst of an eight-season playoff drought — the NHL’s longest active streak.

General manager Jason Botterill is impressed with what he’s seen from a team that has so far handled adversity. After opening a three-game California road trip with a 5-2 loss to Anaheim, the Sabres responded with wins against Los Angeles and San Jose.

“I think Ralph has come with a clear message of what he’s looking for from our players,” Botterill said. “And I think our players have been very open to receiving that message.”

The Sabres are benefiting from a balanced offensive attack, in which seven players have scored three or more goals. Their power play is leading the league with 11 goals, six coming from rookie Victor Olofsson. And Buffalo’s goaltending has been sound, with veteran Carter Hutton enjoying a two-game shutout streak.

Though realizing the season is still young, Krueger referred to the Sabres’ successful start as validating the plan he and his staff implemented this summer.

“It definitely as a coach helps when you have confirmation. Nothing ever replaces winning in sports,” Krueger said. “And we know the opposition will have more and more respect for us as we go on here, and we will need to be better every day to continue having success.”

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