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Hamilton Take2: Is Jack Eichel starting to get his game in gear?

WGRZ/WGR550 Sabres & NHL Insider Paul Hamilton shares his thoughts on signs that Jack Eichel may be coming out of his goal scoring slump.
Credit: AP
Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (9) passes the puck during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

BUFFALO, N.Y. — This may sound really strange, but I think hitting two posts and missing a great opportunity shooting wide on the power play really helped Jack Eichel.

I talked about this on Tuesday’s postgame show. First the Sabres captain missed the net on an open one-timer, and then he beat Devils goalie Mackenzie Blackwood twice but hit the post both times.

Eichel does have assists in three of his last four games, including one on Rasmus Asplund’s goal on Tuesday, but he just hasn’t seemed right. The game on Monday against the Islanders was in my mind easily his worst of the season. He looked hurt to me, but Ralph Krueger said Eichel is not playing hurt and just needs a boost in confidence.

After that power play I thought that Eichel appeared to gain confidence maybe because he was getting such good chances. You could see some pep in his skating.

He was engaged and winning battles, he was looking confident as he carried the puck up ice knowing that the opponent was seeing he had speed coming through the neutral zone. He was strong on his entries and wouldn’t allow the defense to stop his forward momentum.

He was so excited after Asplund scored and you could tell he felt good for the kid.

Eichel has two goals this season and hasn’t scored in eight games, but he just looked different against the Devils. He looked like he was enjoying the game again and it was coming to him easier.

Unfortunately, it’s likely way too late because after just over a month of the season, it looks like this season has gotten away from the Sabres. Pittsburgh and the Islanders hold down third and fourth place in the East, seven points in front of the Sabres.

If the Sabres were in fifth place and seven points behind, that would be a whole different conversation, but they still must pass the Rangers, New Jersey and Philadelphia before they can even start setting their eyes on a playoff spot, and that’s just too big a hill to climb with this kind of competition in the East.

Let me be Mr. Optimistic for a moment, and let’s say they beat the Devils on Thursday and take both games from the Flyers over the weekend, all in regulation. That would give Buffalo 20 points, and they would be in front of the Devils for sure, but not necessarily Philadelphia because the Flyers played the Rangers on Wednesday night.   

With there being only division games and many of them going to overtime guaranteeing points for both teams, you just can’t dig this big of a hole and expect to crawl out of it.

Now if the Sabres could somehow put together a 10-game winning streak, then they would vault themselves back into the playoff race, but short of that, well, I won’t use the words.