The Buffalo Sabres’ top line of Jack Eichel, Jason Pominville and Jeff Skinner is having no problem contributing offensively this season. What the team could really use, however, is stronger secondary scoring.
It’s no surprise that the Sabres’ top line is leading the team. Eichel has only four goals but a team-high 13 assists and leads his team with 17 points. Skinner has a team-high nine goals and has added seven assists for 16 points. Pominville has eight goals and a total of 14 points. All three have played 15 games each.
But below that, the scoring levels drop off for the Sabres. No other player has reached the 10-point mark, with Conor Sheary, Kyle Okposo and Sam Reinhart each racking up eight points.
Let’s start by talking about those three.
Sheary has scored five goals on the season, but three of those cam in the team’s opening five games. On a positive note, he’s currently on a two-game scoring streak, having put up goals against the Rangers and Senators.
One point where Sheary has been particularly useful - or at least, was toward the beginning of the season - was the power play, with his first three goals coming on the man advantage. He’s actually on pace to have a better season than last year, currently on pace for 43 points.
Okposo has four goals this season, and it’s only recently that he’s finally started finding the back of the net. All four of his goals have come since October 21, a span of seven games. Again, like Sheary, he’s managed to produce on the power play - where half of his goals have come. Last season, Okposo registered 44 points, which he’s about on pace to match.
Reinhart, meanwhile, has just one goal this season, a tally notched on October 25 against the Montreal Canadiens. He has managed seven assists, including two in the Sabres’ recent smash of the Senators, but otherwise, certainly could stand to pick things up a bit. Last season was Reinhart’s first 50-point season of his NHL career, and if he hopes to repeat that, he’ll need to pick up the pace.
Beyond those three, it doesn’t look so hot. No other forward has more than five points. Defensemen Jake McCabe and Rasmus Ristolainen have more points than guys like Casey Mittelstadt, who has just two goals on the season; Evan Rodrigues, who hasn’t found the back of the net yet; and Patrik Berglund, half of whom’s goals came with an empty net.
Tage Thompson? One measly assist in nine games.
Vladimir Sobotka? Two points - one goal, one assist - in 12 games.
It’s great to have a strong first line like that of Eichel, Pominville and Skinner - but a first line alone cannot win games. (Well, they can, but it isn’t sustainable.) A first line alone cannot get you to the playoffs, or wins in the postseason.
So what happens now? Maybe Rodrigues gets to sit in the press box again. Maybe it’s time to demote Thompson to the AHL. Many have suggested calling up players from the AHL’s Rochester Americans, like Victor Olofsson - but what happens if Olofsson gets called up and finds himself on the third or fourth line in Buffalo and can’t scrape anything together?
For me, it’s about looking towards that trio of Sheary, Okposo and Reinhart to get things together. All three are fairly established NHLers and should be part of the leadership team on the ice this season.
For both of last weekend’s games, Sheary and Reinhart were centered on a line by Mittelstadt, while Okposo was on the third line with Rodrigues and Sobotka. Shake this up, try some new combinations and get these guys motivated to produce offensively - and not just in games where the team manages to win 9-2.