Jack Eichel was the biggest hometown winner on a busy sports Sunday around Boston.
Unfortunately for loyal sports fans around The Hub, the former Boston University standout is donning the Blue and Gold on an improved Buffalo Sabres squad, who stayed ahead of the Bruins in the early Atlantic Division playoff picture.
Here is what we learned from Buffalo’s 4-2 win at TD Garden.
Jack Eichel is finally getting his due.
Jack Eichel makes it a 2-1 game. pic.twitter.com/iI8D236Je2
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) December 17, 2018
It’s been a long time coming for Eichel, the second overall pick of the 2015 NHL Draft.
The Sabres weren’t exactly a marquee team in Eichel’s first three seasons. Buffalo’s captain showed flashes of brilliance during this time, yet a rotating carousel of coaches, a lack of a supporting cast, and injuries provided a hit to his professional hockey development.
Eichel is healthy again. He has a talented supporting cast featuring veterans Jeff Skinner and Kyle Okposo, a solid core of up-in-comers in Sam Reinhart and Casey Mittelstadt, and a future franchise defenseman in Rasmus Dahlin, the top overall pick in June. His coach, Phil Housley, is pushing the right buttons.
The injury-plagued Bruins found out first-hand just how good Eichel is on Sunday. The speedy North Chelmsford native had a night full of scoring chances, behind-the-back passes, and slick wrist shots en route to a four-point performance (two goals, two assists).
“I think we’ve obviously been through a lot of adversity together, and I think we’re probably sick of it,” Eichel said about his journey in Buffalo. “The last few years, it’s not been easy, but you know, with the way our season has started this year, I think we have the confidence in each other and the belief, and we think we can win every game we play. So, you know, it was no different tonight. We thought if we do the right things long enough and don’t break, we’ll give ourselves the chance to win, and we did that.”
The Sabres, who climbed ahead of the Maple Leafs for second place in the Atlantic, aren’t bottom-feeders anymore. Eichel, after three long years, is finally getting the spotlight that he deserves.
The Bruins’ back-end is scoring, but not defending.
Injuries and secondary scoring are two common threads toward the Bruins’ up and down start. But, they’ve gotten help in the goal department over the past week with Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo and Steven Kampfer all providing offense from the blue-line.
Yet, even with Krug notching his third goal in five games and Kampfer tallying his first goal in a Bruins uniform since March 3, 2011, Bruce Cassidy isn’t getting enough urgency from his blue-liners at the defending end over the last two games.
The Bruins have played a tight and reliable defensive game without captain Zdeno Chara and four-time Selke winner Patrice Bergeron. That trend took a bit of a hit as the Penguins and Sabres found holes in Boston’s defensive coverage. The D left Jaroslav Halak and Tuukka Rask out to dry in those efforts as they saw their goals-per-game increase after giving up nine goals in the last two games.
One play that summed up their last two games happened on Skinner’s second goal of the night. The victim: Colby Cave, who had his attention toward Eichel from behind the net. With Cave’s back turned in the other direction, Skinner took Eichel’s feed and fired his 24th tally of the season.
“Yeah, and we need it, right? You have to be part of it at the right time,” Cassidy said about the defensive issues in the past two games. “We’ve wanted to guard against just selling out because we haven’t scored enough to get into those trade chances type of games. We’ve lost them the last two nights, right? It just hasn’t gone our way.”
The Bruins coach is counting down the days when his reliable two-way center and 6-foot-9 defenseman return. He may have one of those players back soon as Bergeron could join his teammates for practice as early as Wednesday.
Another review goes against the Bruins
— Boston Bruins on CLNS (@BruinsCLNS) December 16, 2018
One more carryover from Friday’s loss to the Penguins: reviews going against the Bruins.
Sean Kuraly was the recipient of Friday’s review when the officials lost sight of the puck as it laid on Casey DeSmith’s chest before crossing the goal-line. Brad Marchand had the dubious honor two nights later when an early whistle in the second period prevented him from notching his 11th goal of the season.
Or was it an early whistle? The officiating crew took a few minutes only to announce that the play wasn’t reviewable.
The Bruins bounced back in both instances to eventually tie the game. But Sunday’s call prevented the Black and Gold from taking a 2-1 lead and left Cassidy scratching his head.
“[The explanation] I was given — first by the linesman — that it was a goal on the ice. So I was confused when they came over and told me that…they announce non-reviewable,” Cassidy said about the game-changing moment. “I think it was a poor call. The puck’s visible. We scored the goal.”
They say hockey is a true game of inches. Well, in the Bruins’ case, it became a game of early whistles the past two games.