Jack Eichel’s off to huge start for Sabres

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With his $10 million AAV kicking in this season, Jack Eichel is certainly being paid fairly for his efforts. He might not always be getting the sort of credit he deserves, at least in certain, more cynical circles.

Perhaps this is the year he really cements his place as one of the NHL’s elite, and carries the Buffalo Sabres along with him?

Even Eichel’s naysayers must admit that he’s off to an impressive start. The 22-year-old already generated 17 points in 15 games, tying him for the 14th-best total in the NHL.

For some, the question is “Can he keep this up?” Really, though, it should be “Can he stay healthy?”

Through three turbulent seasons in the NHL, Eichel’s scored 24 goals twice and 25 once, never falling below 56 points. That’s a greater achievement when you consider that a) he was limited to 67 games in 2017-18 and 61 in 2016-17, and b) Eichel’s been on some lousy teams. (One can only imagine what Eichel might have muttered during hypothetical Uber rides during the past few seasons’ lowest moments.)

So, it’s fair to point out that Eichel’s basically been good-to-great since day one, but it’s also possible that he’s reaching yet another level this season. Enjoy this deeper dive into his fantastic, hype-affirming start.

[PHT Q&A with Eichel]

Questions of luck

Puck luck is an interesting element of Eichel’s start, as there are reasons why things might get even better, but also areas where regression seems all but certain.

For one thing, Eichel’s own shots will probably hit the net more frequently going forward. The center has already generated a robust 59 shots on goal, good for 3.93 SOG per game. Despite being so trigger-happy, Eichel’s only scored four goals, good for just a 6.8 shooting percentage. Maybe some of that volume comes from quantity over quality, but Eichel should get more bounces, as his career shooting percentage is 9.7.

Via Hockey Reference, you can see that his on-ice shooting percentage, meanwhile, is higher than usual. He’s at 11.5 percent, versus a career average of 8.6.

It seems like Eichel’s most common linemates are generally swiping his puck luck. Jeff Skinner (another volume shooter) has been electric, connecting on 18 percent of his SOG as he’s collected nine goals and 16 points in 15 games. Eichel and Skinner seem to turn back time for Jason Pominville, as he’s playing well enough to make Daniel Alfredsson forget who he is again, scoring on 19.5 percent of his SOG for eight goals and 14 points. Even Conor Sheary‘s season shooting percentage is 16.7 percentage.

So, expect Eichel’s goals to climb, while his assists should fall.

That said, Skinner – Eichel could very well remain a deadly combination, to the point that Buffalo might want to dangle an extension to their dimpled new winger.

All-around improvement

There’s only so much you can do about luck. The good news is that Eichel is “making his own luck” with stronger all-around play.

Coaches and color commentators likely put too much weight on faceoffs at times, but it’s still promising to see Eichel go from fairly putrid in that area (41.3-percent career average) to close to even so far in 2018-19, as he’s won 49.2-percent of his draws. The more well-rounded Eichel’s game, the less likely Phil Housley will decide not to roll him out in important situations.

Eichel’s vastly improved his puck possession game, going from a negative player in that regard – however much that falls on him – to one who’s positive by just about every metric, as you can see at Natural Stat Trick.

Now, it’s plausible that Skinner has as much to do with that area of improvement as Eichel’s own work, being that Skinner’s been a consistently dominant puck hog during his career. Then again, maybe this is a sign of what Eichel can accomplish when he’s getting more help?

***

As of this writing, the Sabres currently hold a slim lead on the last East wild-card spot at 16 points in 15 games (7-6-2).

More than even a healthy season in the point-per-game range, making the playoffs would raise Eichel’s profile and standing in the eyes of the hockey world. To do so, Eichel and the Sabres will surely have to roll with punches that used to easily knock them out.

Time will tell if Eichel can pull all of that off, but so far, he’s been extremely impressive.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

“That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

“It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

“It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

“We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

TAKE NOTE

The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

UP NEXT

Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

“We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

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TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.