The last two games without Jack Eichel have been a tough lesson in patience for Buffalo Sabres fans. While Eichel’s absence understandably has been evident, not all has been lost for a team that has notably struggled to score this season.
On the surface, Buffalo was able to grab two points in four games and keep their pace in the on-going race for the playoffs.
On the ice, new chemistry among players was being pushed due to Eichel’s injury. Thursday, we had our first look at the top line of Jeff Skinner-Evan Rodrigues-Sam Reinhart.
Rodrigues was given the first shot at working with the ever-powerful top line. He played almost exclusively with Reinhart and Skinner and he shy away at the opportunity.
When playing centered by Rodrigues, both Reinhart (52.94 CF%) and Skinner (50.00 CF%) pushed the offensive pace, as seen by fancy stats.
On the scoresheet, things looked a little different.
Skinner finished Thursday’s game with two goals and he was a plus-1. Reinhart finished with a goal, an assist and he was also a plus-1. Rodrigues finished with no points and an even plus/minus rating.
The plus/minus is mentioned because Skinner, Reinhart and Rodrigues were each on the ice for five of seven combined goals scored in the game.
Success on Thursday night against the Panthers made Phil Housley’s decision to roll out the same lineup on Saturday night much easier.
Against the Boston Bruins, despite the 2-1 loss, Rodrigues continued to flow with the top line. When on the ice with Reinhart during 5-on-5 play, Rodrigues registered a 52.00 CF%. When on the ice with Skinner during 5-on-5 play, Rodrigues registered a 52.17 CF%.
Despite being held off the scoresheet, this line continued to show signs of life for a Sabres team desperately in need of something different.
While Eichel has registered a 50.2 CF% in all situations this season, maybe it is time to shake things up a bit.
The Buffalo Sabres continue to be winless this season when Eichel, Reinhart and Skinner are held off the scoresheet. With Reinhart and Skinner showing ability to roll with Rodrigues over these last two games, it might be wise to give the second line to that trio and give two other players a shot with Eichel.
The simple answer here would be to stick Casey Mittelstadt with Skinner and Reinhart on the second line, while giving players like Conor Sheary and Tage Thompson a shot with Eichel.
It is all about finding an offensive spark that will stick.
All things considered, maybe this minor upper-body injury suffered by Eichel becomes a blessing in disguise. Forcing Housley’s hand to determine what works without Eichel could not only help the team in the short-term but the long-term as well.
When Eichel returns, is it time to experiment with different lines?
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