Score: Calgary: 4, Buffalo: 3
Shots: CAL-29, BUF-29
Buffalo Goalscorers: Sam Reinhart, Jake McCabe, Jack Eichel
Toronto Goalscorers: Johnny Gaudreau
For the third time in five games, and the fourth time in seven, Buffalo managed more than their season average of goals per game, which is fantastic. Scoring was hard to come by for most of November, so it is great to see the time getting a little more consistency with putting the puck in the net. Jack Eichel added to his point streak, eclipsing the 10-game mark. Even Jake McCabe did his best to garner some favor with fans by burying a goal.
Minus-1: Goals against
In seven of the last ten games, Buffalo has allowed three goals or more, with more coming with unsettling frequency. While there is certainly progress being made in the offensive zone, the team continues to struggle defensively, and even on nights when the goaltending is above average, the team cannot seem to keep the puck out of the net. Hopefully head coach Ralph Kruger can get his team to play solidly in both zones before the all-star break.
The game of hockey has changed a lot in the last decade, and though the league has tried to scrub the ‘goons’ from rosters, Milan Lucic continues to find spots on teams. The aging forward contributed six goals in 79 games last year. In his first 27 games of this year’s campaign, he failed to score. Until the third period of this game, when he potted what was ultimately the game winner. Surely, fans who stayed up for this west coast tilt had their face contorted into a terrifying visage of disgust when he raised his arms in celebration.
Plus-1: Jack Eichel
Our sweet baby boy has 18 goals on the season, good enough for fourth in the league, and just one goal behind Connor McDavid, who has played one more game than Eichel. Prior to the matchup with Calgary, Eichel was sixth in the league in points per 60 with a 3.37. His 11-game point streak is best in the NHL right now. He’s scoring on 16.5 percent of his shots - he’s taking shots at a rate that’s just below stars like David Pasternak and Alexander Ovechkin. It’s been hard to love this team for the last few seasons, but it’s so easy to love Eichel, especially as he comes into his own this year.
The young forward has been slowly figuring out the five-on-five game, and even with his struggles at even strength, he’s got 23 points on the season. It’s the second-most for a Sabres rookie at the 29-game mark. He’s also got points in more games (20) than Eichel (19). He leads all first-year forwards in average time on ice and is second among the same group in shifts per game, with one fewer than Toronto’s Ilya Mikheyev. He may trail Cale Makar in early season Calder watch, however, he is making a strong case for himself.
It’s getting daunting beating up on this team. Some of the individual successes deserve to be spotlighted. There are some glaring issues, of course - the team had eight power play opportunities and failed to capitalize until the final minute of the game. For a club that was killing it with the advantage to start the year, it is disturbing to see the wheels come off of this particular vehicle. Defensive zone errors continue to plague the team, with no real solution in sight. Still, even with a record that essentially meets the very low bar of the last few seasons, this club is fun to watch, if you’re able to suspend frustration with the final result.