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Eichel, Reinhart lead Sabres to 'gutsy win' over Golden Knights

Eichel matches career-high with 28th goal

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart both agreed: The Buffalo Sabres didn't quite have their best against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday. By the end of the night, it didn't matter.

Reinhart tallied three points, including a goal and an assist on the power play, and Eichel scored the game-winner in highlight-reel fashion as the Sabres earned a 4-2 victory. 

Buffalo has now won four of its last six games. 

"It's a gutsy win," Eichel said afterward. "We needed that win."'

Video: POSTGAME: Eichel

The Sabres dominated the first period to the tune of 13-4 shot advantage but were unable to score against Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. The Golden Knights flipped the script in the second, outshooting the Sabres 12-5 and taking a 1-0 lead on a goal from Tomas Nosek. 

Special teams allowed the Sabres to emerge from that second period with a 2-1 lead, built on the strength of power-play goals from Kyle Okposo and Reinhart. That didn't take away from their disappointment with how the period went at even strength. 

"I thought between periods we stayed quite calm, but we were stern, we were angry, and it was just about getting back to that," Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said. "The first period was one of our best in a long time. It was quite disappointing then to give up on some of those habits. 

"At the same time, they're as good a checking team as we've seen in this building. They hound pucks like I haven't really seen; maybe St. Louis does it, but not many other teams hound like that. To recover and still win the game, I thought was excellent."

Eichel was admittedly disappointed with his own play in the middle period, which included a few uncharacteristic turnovers from the Sabres captain. He channeled that anger into a prolific response after Vegas forward Reilly Smith tied the game with a power-play goal early in the third. 

It's a scene that's become familiar but, for Sabres fans, never gets old: Eichel picking up the puck in his own end and bursting across both blue lines with speed. With Zemgus Girgensons skating opposite him on a 2-on-1 rush, Eichel deked around defenseman Shea Theodore and flicked a shot in over Fleury's pad. 

Video: VGK@BUF: Eichel goes coast-to-coast to reclaim lead

The goal was his 28th of the season, already matching his career-high and tying Alex Ovechkin for third in the NHL. He also tallied an assist in the game, extending his point streak to eight contests. 

"It was definitely the genius that he has in him came out on that goal," Krueger said. "I think we were all quite frustrated with the second period and came out of it actually unscathed. That was the language between periods. 

"For him to come out with that energy and to understand the opportunity we had after the painful 2-2 goal, the situation we were in after the penalties, it's just the leader that we have in Jack and the player that we have in Jack. It all came through in that moment of brilliance."

While Krueger spoke highly of his captain, Eichel credited Krueger for the Sabres' ability to respond as of late. All season, Krueger has preached the importance of keeping a "small picture," constantly focusing on the current day and what can be done to improve. He thinks and speaks in terms of solutions, not problems. 

It's that way of thinking, Eichel said, that allowed that Sabres to respond to disappointing losses against St. Louis and Vancouver with back-to-back victories over Detroit and Vegas. 

"I think the group just responds to Ralph so well and the message he delivers, especially after games like St. Louis and Vancouver where I think we get away from our identity a little bit and we don't do the things that make us successful," Eichel said. "I think Ralph's able to hone the group in so well and get us to play the game that we know we need to play to win. 

"… I just think that he's been so good at bringing us back and getting us all back on the same page and bought in. He kind of just hits the reset button. He doesn't carry his emotions over. You know, maybe he's mad at us for our performances here and there, but he never carries it over. He just brings such a good attitude to the rink every day and I think it just flows through the locker room with all the players and we're able to reset after bad losses and just find a way to be able to be good the next night, because that's all you can really do."

Veteran forward Kyle Okposo echoed Eichel's sentiment regarding their coach's infectious attitude.

"You just come to work and it's a new day," Okposo said. "There's no moping around, there's no hard feelings. If we have to watch clip of the game before and learn from it, we do. If we have to just move on and focus on what we need to do the next game, we will. It's a new day. You're going to lose games in this league. Just the positivity and just the way that he speaks and motivates has been awesome for us this year."

The Sabres have visits to Dallas and Nashville remaining before their eight-day break for the bye week and All-Star Weekend. In the meantime, they'll show up to the rink on Wednesday, learn from the good and bad of their game against Vegas, then move on. 

"You can't hold on to your mistakes and obviously you can't ride your wins too much," Eichel said. "I mean, it happens so quick in this league. Every night's a new challenge, so you've just got to get ready for the next game."


Two more for the power play

The Sabres power play improved to 6-for-14 (43 percent) over the team's last five games, continuing to reap the rewards of increased shot volume and movement between players. 

Okposo scored the first goal, which tied the score at 1-1 in the second period. The play began with Conor Sheary stripping the puck from Golden Knights forward William Karlsson as he attempted to exit the zone. Sheary quickly fed Reinhart, who set up Okposo in the left circle. 

Video: VGK@BUF: Okposo nets equalizer off turnover

"When it's not going well, you need volume of shots," Okposo said. "That seems to be opening everything up."

Reinhart's goal was the product of a tic-tac-toe play that saw Eichel pass to Rasmus Ristolainen at the net front and Ristolainen feed Reinhart for a one-time goal in the slot. 

Video: VGK@BUF: Reinhart nets PPG on Ristolainen's set-up

The play was continued evidence of the players' commitment to filling multiple spots on the power play. For years, Reinhart's home on the power play has been in front of the net. His last two goals before this were one-timers from the left circle. 

"Yeah, I mean, I don't really know where I am half the time right now," Reinhart said. "It's kind of new but, like I said, everyone's kind of filling into different positions. Coach has done a good job of kind of letting us know how the other team defends and kind of letting us go from there."

Ristolainen, meanwhile, continues to enjoy his new home at the net-front. After outmuscling a defender to bury a rebound in Detroit on Tuesday, his pass to Reinhart showed he's a threat in more ways than one.

"He's looked very poised down there," Reinhart said. "That's a big part of it. If he didn't look so poised, maybe I'd be a little bit more tempted to go down there, but he's been doing a great job. He's making great reads of when to stay in front of the net, when to release. It's been fun to watch."


Up next

The Sabres begin a two-game road trip in Dallas on Thursday. Coverage on MSG begins at 8 p.m., or you can listen live on WGR 550. Puck drop is scheduled for 8:30. 

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