BUFFALO, N.Y. — Sabres center Jack Eichel was in a far better mood to end Tuesday than he was opening it.
A win — especially one over Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals — eased the frustrations Buffalo’s franchise player said were eating away at him and the Sabres during their slow start to the season.
“We should use this game as a confidence booster,” Eichel said following a 3-1 victory in which he set up Evander Kane‘s opening goal. “We beat a really good hockey team, and we need to know that we could play with anybody.”
Now it’s up to the Sabres to show they can string two wins together, something they’ve done just once during a 5-8-2 start.
“As a group we can learn from this,” he added. “We did a lot of good things. We just want to keep getting better and better.”
Eichel’s upbeat remarks came about 12 hours after he voiced his displeasure over a 1-3 skid that dropped Buffalo into last place in the Eastern Conference standings.
“I think everyone’s pretty frustrated at this point,” Eichel said. “But I don’t think sitting around and being frustrated and moping about something is really going to do anything about it.”
As much as the Sabres were trying to stay patient and positive, Eichel said it was time for everyone to stop talking about needing to play better and begin showing it on the ice.
“At some point you need to make a transition,” he said. “And there’s no better time than now.”
The Sabres did that in a game they closed out by scoring twice in the third period. Benoit Pouliot scored the go-ahead goal on an end-to-end rush 3:22 into the third period, and Kane sealed it with an empty-netter.
Buffalo scored three or more goals for just the sixth time this season.
This had not been the start the Sabres were anticipating under new coach Phil Housley and general manager Jason Botterill. They were brought in as part of an offseason overhaul after Buffalo missed the playoffs for a sixth consecutive year.
Eichel also expected more out of himself and the Sabres a little over a month since signing an eight-year, $80 million contract extension that will make him the franchise’s highest-paid player next year.
Eichel has four goals and 10 assists in 15 games, and ranks second on the team with 14 points, one behind Kane.
And the power play continues to struggle after leading the NHL last season. Buffalo went 0 of 4 against the Capitals after entering the game ranking 29th in converting just 6 of 48 chances while also allowing six short-handed goals.
Forward Kyle Okposo acknowledged it’s been difficult to stay positive.
“It wears on you mentally that’s for sure,” said Okposo, who has scored just once in 12 games.
“When things aren’t going well, it’s tough to play. It’s tougher to be confident in yourself and confident in your game,” he said. “But you’ve got to find a way to show that confidence and just remember you can play this game.”
Housley has maintained an upbeat approach and sees signs of the Sabres adjusting to his system, which relies on speed and defensemen getting involved in the rush.
“I know our record doesn’t reflect where I think we should be, but that’s part of the learning process,” Housley said. “There’s a lot of good things to look at in the structure of our game. We have to do it for 60 minutes, though.”