Jack Eichel felt his postgame outburst in Boston on Saturday evening had been blown a bit out of proportion, but his level of frustration hadn't waivered when the Buffalo Sabres returned to practice at KeyBank Center on Sunday afternoon.
The Sabres have lost six of their last seven games and sit 10 points out of third place in the Atlantic Division following back-to-back losses against the Boston Bruins, and Eichel said he spoke for his teammates while venting his disappointment.
Video: BYLSMA: After Practice
"I don't think it's about me," Eichel said. "I mean I think a lot of these guys have probably been winners their whole life. We're a group, we're one. We go through adversity as a team together and the highs when we win games, that's also together. I think I speak for the team in saying that we're all frustrated with where we're at and I don't think I'm the only person in the locker room that's not satisfied. I think everybody here is pretty pissed with themselves and the way things have went."
The Sabres have been bitten early and often by the injury bug this season, having already lost Eichel, Evander Kane, Tyler Ennis, Nicolas Deslauriers, Zach Bogosian and Dmitry Kulikov for double-digit games. Ryan O'Reilly will join those ranks assuming he doesn't play in New York on Tuesday - he's yet to return to practice after undergoing an appendectomy last weekend - and Johan Larsson is out for the long term after dislocating his wrist and elbow in Boston on Saturday.
Eichel made the point that the team has never been fully healthy during his two seasons in Buffalo, but he also wasn't willing to blame the Sabres' struggles on injuries. He spoke broadly when asked about what the team needs to improve going forward.
"Everything," he said. "The power play, I mean we have a 5-on-3, we don't score, that's not good enough. The penalty kill, we continue to put pucks on the other team's stick, that's not good enough. Five on five we don't score enough goals either so I think as a whole team, everyone needs to look in the mirror and we all need to get a lot better."
The two games against Boston are particularly disappointing given the stakes of those games - had the Sabres swept them in regulation, they'd currently be sitting just two points back from the third-place team in the Atlantic Division. But while their current 10-point deficit may seem like a steep climb, Dan Bylsma said his team's focus now has to be on the amount of time they still have to make up ground.
"We had opportunities both before the break and the two games against Boston and we let them slip away," the Sabres coach said. "At the same time you have 46 games left in the season, we know if we play how we can and we win hockey games at the rate we can it'll put us in the 90-point [range], that area where we think we're going to need to be in playoff contention. That's really got to be the focus for us here … We have to realize the situation we're in now and we've got win 60 percent of our points the rest of the way out for sure."
For all the frustration at a low point of the Sabres season, Eichel hasn't waived the white flag either.
"I don't think we've hit the halfway point yet," Eichel said. "I'm sure not giving up on this and I don't think anyone else is. Have we pissed away some good opportunities for ourselves to put ourselves in a good position? Yes.
"But there's still a lot of hockey to be played."
Larsson remains hospitalized in Boston due to his dislocated wrist and elbow, injuries that will keep him out long term. Bylsma said the team hopes for him to return to Buffalo on Monday, at which time he'll undergo further evaluation.
Larsson has six goals and five assists in 36 games this season, but his greatest value might be the physical checking he's brought each time out on the ice.
"It's going to be a real big loss," Bylsma said. "He's a tough guy to play against, battles hard every night for us and he's been a leader in really having that grit and determination in our game. You felt it even in the game last night where he's not there for the better part of three periods."
William Carrier returned to practice after missing the game in Boston on Saturday with a hand injury, while Tyler Ennis skated without a red no-contact jersey for the first time. Ennis did not, however, participate in 5-on-5 battle drills at the end of practice.
Carrier has been playing with his hand injury throughout the season, but he aggravated it during a fight with Boston's McQuaid on Thursday. The fight was in response to Carrier's hit on David Backes that saw Backes leave the game with a concussion, a hit Carrier said he felt sorry for on Sunday.
"I looked at it a few times," he said. "I was just finishing my hit and I think he turns while I was finishing my hit. I played with him in St. Louis too so I know the guy … I didn't want to injure him. I know he's had a few [concussions] in the past too so I feel kind of bad for him."
Dmitry Kulikov (lower back) and Josh Gorges (hip) were both absent, leaving former defenseman Nicolas Deslauriers to fill in on a pair with Zach Bogosian during drills. Bylsma did not have an update on Kulikov, but said Gorges might be able to return to practice on Monday.
Robin Lehner was also absent for a maintenance day.
Lines at practice
82 Marcus Foligno - 15 Jack Eichel - 21 Kyle Okposo
9 Evander Kane - 23 Sam Reinhart - 56 Justin Bailey
48 William Carrier - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 12 Brian Gionta
63 Tyler Ennis - 27 Derek Grant - 26 Matt Moulson
29 Jake McCabe - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 47 Zach Bogosian
41 Justin Falk - 6 Cody Franson
31 Anders Nilsson