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Sabres unable to overcome early deficit in loss to Wild

Eichel attempts to spark team with 2nd-period fight

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

With the Sabres trailing 3-0 in the second period at KeyBank Center on Tuesday night, Jack Eichel tossed his gloves and began throwing punches at Minnesota Wild forward Joel Eriksson Ek. 

Eichel received a double minor penalty for roughing on the play, but the message from the Sabres captain was clear. 

"What Jack did there was a sign of leadership, was a sign of passion and a willingness to change this," Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said afterward. "We have to get that right through our lineup, and everybody just build on that." 

The Sabres killed the penalty and pushed from that point on but were unable to score until Brandon Montour buried a bounce at the back door with 3:49 remaining. Jason Zucker buried an empty-net goal less than two minutes later to seal a 4-1 win for the Wild. 

Afterward, the players who spoke talked about following the example of their captain as they try and navigate their way out of a difficult stretch. The team is now 2-7-2 in its last 11 games after starting the season 8-1-1. 

Video: Condensed Game: Wild @ Sabres

"He's our leader and he showed it tonight," alternate captain Jake McCabe said. "He's been showing it the last few games. It should be a wakeup call to everyone in this room, especially myself. You need to look at yourself in the mirror, everyone in this room, and we all need to be better. 

"Obviously, a real tough stretch right now, but with saying that, that's why you bank points when you bank points in the beginning of the year. It turns out that there's going to be ebbs and flows in the beginning of the season and right now we're facing a really large test. It's a saying, whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. That's what we're grasping onto here."

Zach Parise scored a pair of first-period goals for the Wild, including one on the power play with 2.8 seconds remaining. Jonas Brodin buried a feed from Jason Zucker to make it 3-0 at the 5:29 mark of the second period. 

The Sabres challenged Brodin's goal for offside entry, but call was upheld following a lengthy review. 

McCabe and Eichel both emphasized the need to respond better in the face of 1-0 deficits and stick to the plan that made them successful throughout October.

"That's good, they're looking at solutions so they can feel something we can get better at and we need to work on," Krueger said. "It's a little bit that, possibly after goals against, fear comes in too quickly. We need to eliminate that. We need to stay with the plan. We need to fight through it. 

"…They need to push each other when the going gets rough in a game, and be a little more vocal at it, so I agree with that. But they're not falling apart on the bench. I think there's a strength there, too, and guys are speaking about solutions and they're working towards that. We've got some work to do here right now and it's going to be 'roll up the sleeves' because especially when you're in this momentum, you have to work that much harder. That's all I know how to do in a situation like this. You've got to work harder when things aren't going well."

Throughout October, the Sabres stuck to a brand of hockey that emphasized connected, aggressive play. They spoke often about playing on their toes rather than on their heels, which resulted in time spent in the offensive zone and contributions from all four lines. 

"You see what happens when we play connected, we play as a five-man unit," McCabe said. "Our defensive game, when we play that way, is very strong. Eliminating space, creating turnovers, getting the puck back in and grinding them. That's when we're at our best."

On offense, Krueger reiterated the need for more presence at the net front to create "ugly goals," a message that was echoed by McCabe and Montour. Prior to Montour scoring, Buffalo's last five goals over the past three games had all been scored by Eichel.

Video: MIN@BUF: Montour fires home rebound from in tight

"It's not going our way," Montour said. "We need to get an ugly goal. I don't remember the last time we scored an ugly goal besides I guess the one tonight where we had a handful of guys in front of the net. We need more of that. I'm not just saying that because I scored but we need that. 

"It needs to be in bunches, and it needs to be from everyone, all the way up the line and down the line, myself included. We need everybody to pitch in, do their work and use their strengths. We're having a tough time scoring goals and we need to find ways to get it there and get traffic there, for sure."

The tests remain, with a three-game road trip against Atlantic Division contenders in Boston, Florida, and Tampa Bay up next. Having spoken volumes with his play already, Eichel again set the tone with his words after the game. 

"Listen, we're all in this together," he said. "No one's feeling sorry for us. We can't feel sorry for ourselves. It's frustrating, the position that we're in. But it's just going to test our character right now and our will to compete on a nightly basis and just our will to win. 

"That's what it comes down to. But we're all in this together. It's important we just stick together in this tough time and get through the adversity. That's all you can do."


Up next

The Sabres begin a three-game road trip in Boston on Thursday. Coverage on MSG begins at 6:30 p.m., or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7. 

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