The Buffalo Sabres set a goal to finish .500 for the season, and as they head down the final stretch, they’re playing well enough to make it happen.
They’ve won three straight games and are one game below the mark, sitting at 34-35-11 through 80 games with two games remaining in their regular season schedule. After facing the Blue Jackets at home on Friday night at First Niagara Center, the Sabres close the book on 2015-16 with a Saturday night showdown in Brooklyn against the Islanders.
Chad Johnson stopped 18 shots to pick up his 22nd win of the season on Tuesday night in New Jersey. The Sabres carried a 2-0 lead deep into the third period until the Devils got on the board with 5:29 to play, but an empty-netter from Jack Eichel sealed the deal for Buffalo in the final minute of regulation.
Here’s how Chris Ryndak of Sabres.com described Eichel’s empty-net tally: “Coming in over the blue line, he had to muscle around Mike Sislo and then work around a backcheck from David Schlemko as Kyle Palmieri slid across the goal crease to defend the gaping cage. Eichel found the back of the net and four Devils were down on the ice as a result of the play.”
Robin Lehner, out for the season with an ankle injury, was the No. 1 reason the Sabres picked up a 4-0 win on Feb. 19 at Nationwide Arena.
The fiery Swede made 38 saves and frustrated the Blue Jackets all night long, while at the other end, Buffalo’s offense was efficient and opportunistic, scoring four times (twice in the first period and twice more in the third) and chasing Joonas Korpisalo in favor of Curtis McElhinney.
The player taken one spot before him at last summer’s NHL Draft has garnered much of the attention this season, but Jack Eichel has put together a stellar, impressive and exciting rookie season in Buffalo.
Make no mistake: Connor McDavid has had a tremendous first season in the NHL and has done so despite a clavicle injury that caused him to miss three months. But don't overlook Eichel, who can hardly be considered a consolation prize for Buffalo - he's a legitimate franchise player.
His 24 goals lead the Sabres and his 54 points are second only to Ryan O’Reilly, and at 19 years old, it would appear Eichel is only scratching the surface as far as what he can provide Buffalo offensively.