Sam Reinhart

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Jack Eichel, Connor McDavid have wrong things in common right now

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As the top two picks of the 2015 NHL Draft, faces of beleaguered franchises, and recipients of eight-figure salaries starting next season, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel share a lot in common.

Sadly, though the first quarter of this campaign, their similarities mostly leave you kind of bummed out.

Sure, there are key differences, but if you paint in broad brushstrokes, the similarities are striking.

Varying degrees of blame

Look, it’s almost human nature to blame a team’s failures on its best player. The logic goes: they have the most power to change things, and they often draw the biggest checks (technically not true for McDavid and Eichel until next season), so they need to take the heat, right?

Well, maybe, but in almost every case in a team sport like hockey, it’s usually not on the best guy or even top guys on a team.

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin sure seemed “in decline” for a while there, and then the Penguins brought in Phil Kessel, played to their strengths as an attacking team with Mike Sullivan in charge, and are now repeat champs.

Here’s hoping that McDavid and Eichel get some help, but with things sour for the Oilers (middle of the pack with contender aspirations) and Sabres (cellar dwellers despite dreams of big strides), the two are getting thrown under the bus at times.

The Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington wrote this about Eichel, and keep in mind this was before Buffalo dropped its sixth in a row in falling short against Columbus on Monday:

Eichel has five goals in 20 games, tallying just once in his last 11. He’s got a minus-9 rating for the season. Those are the numbers. Now let’s move to things you can’t measure.

Eichel’s body language has been terrible much of season. It’s a dirty little secret fans are finally figuring out that he floats off the ice far too much on the end of his shifts.

McDavid, meanwhile, saw his defensive struggles magnified during Edmonton’s frustrating loss to the Dallas Stars this past weekend:

Oilers Nation’s Cam Lewis felt the need to defend McDavid, and he wasn’t alone. That’s how bad things are getting for fans of the Sabres and Oilers, two teams who have been through these growing pains so often, they probably wonder if the light at the end of the tunnel is actually a mirage.

Varying degrees of success

You really don’t have to dig that deep to see that McDavid and Eichel stand among a handful of Oilers/Sabres who are carrying the scoring burden for their teams.

It’s especially stark with McDavid, who has 25 points while the second-highest Oilers scorer is currently Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (who has 15). Things are a little more even among Eichel and guys that he spends much of his ice time with, like a resurgent Evander Kane, but the broader view is the same: only four Sabres skaters are above 10 points while the Oilers only have five.

Yes, you can nitpick both players at times, but that requires the willful ignorance of looking the other way on an important point: few, if any, skaters are perfect. Especially during every night of an 82-game season.

The painfully obvious truth is that both McDavid and Eichel need more help and are being asked to do far too much. Harrington made an interesting point with this tweet, as it actually might apply to McDavid more than Eichel:

Deck chairs

From my vantage point, the situation might be more dire for the Oilers than the Sabres for a few reasons.

For one, it seems like Edmonton’s management has made its bed and now must lie in it. The Athletic’s Jonathan Willis said it well (sub required) in a piece titled “There’s no retreat from the course Peter Chiarelli has plotted for the Oilers.”

Chiarelli has essentially cast his lot with the likes of Milan Lucic and Kris Russell as key supporting cast members, and that hasn’t gone well, at all. Their bad contracts and trade clauses make them difficult to move.

And, really, how much do you trust Chiarelli to get the most out of moving, say, Nugent-Hopkins after he’s left behind a trail of shaky (at best) moves during his last years in Boston and his stay in Edmonton? To a lot of fans, he’s already a punchline.

Yikes.

In the short-term, the Sabres’ roster probably has bigger holes. Perhaps things might change as Kyle Okposo gets healthier, but the offense is a little slim beyond Eichel, Kane, Ryan O'Reilly, and Jason Pominville (though Sam Reinhart‘s showing some signs of promise).

While Edmonton’s actually fashioned a half-decent defense for itself, Buffalo’s a mess in that regard.

That said, this is the first season of the Phil Housley – Jason Botterill regime, and they deserve time to get things together. The best thing about this situation is that, while there’s a tough deal or two like that of Zach Bogosian, it’s a fairly clean slate in Buffalo. They don’t need to cling to bad moves out of pride or even to protect their jobs like, say, the Capitals stubbornly hanging onto Brooks Orpik and letting quality players slip by.

Essentially, these two teams are on different points in the board game that is team-building. The Oilers are advancing close to that make-or-break spot, which to some extent makes it scarier to see the same old problems bubbling up.

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No, their situations aren’t exactly the same, but it’s remarkable to see the parallels between Eichel and McDavid right now. You can even meme them in similar ways.

With the right mixture of luck, progression, and good management choices, maybe we can go back to focusing on the delightful things that make them similar: financial security and being absolutely spellbinding at hockey.

Right now, that’s a difficult thing to do.

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Sabres’ Scandella fined, not suspended, for slashing Penguins’ Hornqvist

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The NHL is cracking down on slashing with more penalties – at times to almost an extreme – but suspensions might not come from them. At least not yet.

That point seems clear enough based on the league’s latest decision, as Buffalo Sabres defenseman Marco Scandella was fined (but not suspended) for a pretty gnarly slash on Patric Hornqvist of the Pittsburgh Penguins. To be precise, Scandella received a $5K fine, while the league didn’t provide an explanation for the decision.

(Generally, slashes don’t get a video, and the league is most likely to produce a full-fledged explanation when a suspension occurs. There are exceptions, but that’s usually how it goes.)

Video of the slash isn’t easy to find, but here it is in GIF form, if you feel like cringing:

Also:

The Sabres have to be relieved that Scandella avoided sitting out a game or more, as their defense is already dilapidated with Rasmus Ristolainen among those injured. It doesn’t seem like Hornqvist suffered an injury from the slash.

Again, the lack of a suspension follows the general pattern of NHL decisions, but it was worth noting.

There were some testy moments from last night’s game, with the most memorable moment coming when Jack Eichel was eager to drop his gloves after Ian Cole landed a huge hit on Sam Reinhart. The Penguins ultimately got the last laugh by rallying for a 5-4 overtime win against Buffalo.

The Sabres’ next game comes against the Red Wings in Detroit on Friday. After that, they get an opportunity to make some gains, as they play six of their next seven games in Buffalo.

After Thursday’s game in Ottawa, the Penguins also enjoy a home-heavy schedule going forward.

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Jack Eichel eager to fight for teammate (Video)

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Update: The Penguins ended up winning 5-4 in overtime. Click here for a full recap.

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The Buffalo Sabres aren’t making the strides they were hoping for this season, but don’t blame Jack Eichel.

At least, don’t bury Eichel for a lack of scoring or a lack of emotion.

The soon-to-be $10 million man has been showing his frustration as the Sabres begin 2017-18 up-and-down, so maybe it wasn’t that surprising to see the talented center channel his rage into a near-fight on Tuesday.

As you can see in the video above, Eichel did not hesitate to drop his gloves after Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Ian Cole landed an enormous check on Sam Reinhart. Things got broken up before Eichel could do (or receive) much damage, although it did look like number 15 might have connected for at least one impressive punch.

This isn’t the only time Eichel’s shown some brawny rage this season. You may recall that, after losing a game on his 21st birthday, he broke his stick over his knee:

That prompted a comparison to a great Bo Jackson moment:

As of this writing, the Sabres lead the Penguins 4-3, while Eichel’s scored a goal and an assist.

Not sure if this qualifies as a Gordie Howe hat trick, but it’s close enough to be pretty cool to watch.

For a look at the lighter side of Eichel, check out this “Behind the Bench” segment from last week.

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Penguins, Crosby, Kessel rally vs. Sabres

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Despite all of Jack Eichel‘s rage, the Buffalo Sabres still can’t seem to get it done against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Eichel, Evander Kane, and Sam Reinhart helped Buffalo generate some nice leads on Tuesday, as the Sabres were up 2-0 and 3-1 early on. Benoit Pouliot gave them another lead at 4-3, to boot.

It didn’t matter, aside from securing a “loser point” for the Sabres, as the Penguins ultimately won 5-4 in OT, with Sidney Crosby setting up Conor Sheary for his eighth goal of the season (and third game-winner). To turn the knife in a little bit, Eichel probably could have done a better job against Sheary on that overtime-clincher:

Really, the Sabres might not want to complain too loudly about loser points, as the Penguins have really taken it to them lately.

Sheary’s been deadly against Buffalo, with six points in his last six games against the Sabres after tonight’s two-goal performance.

Crosby’s been quiet – by his lofty standards – as tonight’s goal and assist pushes him to 15 points in 20 games.

Phil Kessel‘s deserving of a lot of credit for the Penguins finding ways to win games and/or at least claim standings points lately. Tonight was a nice example. He helped the Penguins tie things up twice: setting up Crosby on the power play and scoring the 4-4 goal that sent the game to OT:

Kessel continues to lead the Penguins with 24 points in 20 games this season. He extended a five-game point streak that includes three multi-point games (four goals, five assists during that span). Such strong work makes you wonder why the alleged hot dog lover continues to find himself in trade rumors, even after helping the Penguins to two straight Stanley Cups with strong postseason performances.

For the Sabres, it’s yet another reminder that they still need to close some distance to catch up with contenders like Pittsburgh.

While Eichel must be flustered, Robin Lehner might be the angriest member of the team tonight, as he took the L despite saves like these:

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Video: Tom Wilson fights after his latest big hit

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Whether you view him as a dirty hitter or an aggressive player, the bottom line is that opponents must be alert when Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson is on the ice.

Tuesday provided the latest example, as Sam Reinhart got lit up by Wilson. His Buffalo Sabres teammate Jake McCabe responded immediately by dropping the gloves with Wilson.

Probably most importantly, it seems like Reinhart is OK. He returned to the action and created some plays, including making a saucy move in the third period (though he was unable to score in that instance).

You can watch the hit and the short bout in the video above this post’s headline.

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.