The Buffalo Sabres current five-game winning streak is eye-brow raising for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is how they’re doing it without a single goal from their best player, Jack Eichel.
In fact, through the first 20 games played in a season, this is the lowest goal total (four) Eichel has had in his four-year career. Even though he’s not putting the puck in the net, the 22-year-old center leads the team in points with 22 and is tied for 22nd in the entire league in points.
Still, you hear the clamoring for Eichel to shoot more and a $10 million player should be on pace for more than 16 goals in a season.
Well, guess what? Eichel is shooting a lot.
He leads the team with 80 shots on goal and is ranked sixth in the league in shots on goal. He’s on pace for 328 shots this season, which would be a career high, but would tie him with his 2016-17 season shot per game rate of 4.0.
Eichel is shooting at 5.0 percent rate right now, which is well below his career average of 9.6 percent. He has no goals in November on 33 shots on goal this month. In theory, his shot rate should come up close to his career average, meaning more goals are coming. If he was shooting at his career average, Eichel would have eight goals this season, putting him on pace for 33.
But wait there’s more...
In the past, he’s had to generate offense for the Sabres with his playmaking ability and scoring. Since Eichel has arrived in the NHL, if he’s not scoring, his team likely isn’t lighting the lamp either.
That doesn’t have to be the case this season.
Eichel has the most talented finisher he’s had in his young career riding shotgun with him this season in Jeff Skinner. He also has had a rejuvenated Jason Pominville along for the ride on his other wing for the most part over the last month.
While the shots are coming still, he’s shooting from different areas.
The chart from Sean Tierney of Hockey Graphs and The Athletic above shows that Eichel is taking shots from areas with a lower scoring percentage.
Especially, when you compare it to his shot chart from last season (see below).
So, the next question would be, why?
Playing with the aforementioned wingers has allowed Eichel to change the way he plays. He’s evolved into more of a playmaker. The Boston native has 18 assists in 22 and is on pace for 74 assists this season.
Therefore, instead of shooting to score in the past, he appears to be focusing on shooting to create rebounds for his linemates. There’s still times where you’d like him shoot, but he’s passing up some opportunities to create some for his linemates.
Let’s take a look at Skinner’s shot chart:
While we’re at it, let’s take a look at Pominville’s:
A lot of shots for those two are coming in prime scoring areas right around the net. Some of those shots are generated from Eichel’s setups and rebounds from his shots on the outside.
It’s fair to be concerned about the goal totals for Eichel, but does it matter? If he ends the season with his current pace of 90 points, does it matter how those points come? Are 10 goals and 80 assists, any different from 80 goals and 10 assists?
At the end of the day, it amounts to 90 goals generated.
Eichel continues to drive offense for the Sabres, play well at even strength, and be zone exit machine. His goal totals are distracting some from the reality, that he’s off to the best start of his career in terms of production through 20 games.