BUFFALO, N.Y. - Jack Eichel got a text from former teammate Matt Moulson imploring the Buffalo Sabres captain to shoot more.
He took that message seriously.
Eichel shot early and often Saturday and had the first four-goal game of his career, leading the Sabres to a 4-2 win over the Ottawa Senators.
Eichel’s big night helped the struggling Sabres snap a six-game losing streak and improve to 10-6-3.
“He was all over me to start shooting the puck,” Eichel said. “So I figured I’d start shooting a little more.”
It was the first four-goal performance of Eichel’s five-year NHL career, and the first by a Sabres player since Thomas Vanek in April 2010. It was Eichel’s second hat trick, with the first coming on Dec. 15, 2017, against Carolina.
“He’s got unreal skill,” Sabres forward Jeff Skinner said. “And when he’s coming down with speed, it’s pretty difficult for the opposition to stop. Tonight he got some big ones for us.”
Eichel’s first three goals were all highlight-reel shots. The Sabres captain capped the performance with an empty-net goal.
The eventual game-winner came with 7:47 remaining. Eichel raced into the left circle and cut inside on defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, beating Craig Anderson with a shot to the blocker side.
Eichel opened the scoring 1:28 into the second period, using his speed in the right circle and beating Anderson high to the glove side. Eichel picked up his second of the game midway through the second, scoring on a hard wrist shot from the slot.
He added an empty-net goal from centre ice with 13.7 seconds remaining.
“There’s no question his hunger to make plays is larger than his hunger often is to shoot,” Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said. “It was really good to see him shooting. We’ve been speaking about it a lot lately and he really wants to get a balance. He wants to have that threat, it’ll open up the guys for passes again. I’m sure this game will begin a good process in his mind to understand how lethal he can be while still making plays.”
The Sabres have been in the midst of a difficult stretch in which they have fallen in the standings after opening the season at the top of the Eastern Conference with a 9-2-1 start.
Linus Ullmark made 21 saves for Buffalo.
Tyler Ennis and Anthony Duclair scored for Ottawa, which lost after consecutive wins. Anderson made 28 saves.
“I thought we played hard, I really did,” Senators coach D.J. Smith said. “I really liked our second period, start to the third period. That’s what special players do sometimes. I thought Andy was really good; those are big-time goals that he scored.”
Ennis evened the score against his former team 2:01 into the third period on a redirection from close range.
Ottawa’s first goal came on the power play 6:04 into the second period, moments after a 5-on-3 opportunity ended. Duclair finished a cross-ice pass inside the right circle for his seventh goal of the season.
“We did just enough to be competitive, but we didn’t quite do enough to take control of that game,” Senators defenceman Mark Borowiecki said. “Unfortunately for us in this season, the way it’s going, that doesn’t end up being enough.”
One moment of concern came with five minutes remaining in the second period when Sabres winger Kyle Okposo left the game with a possible head injury. Okposo accidentally collided with Senators defenceman Ron Hainsey after he went onto the ice for a line change. Okposo has a worrisome history with concussions, having suffered two previous concussions as a member of the Sabres.
“We’re just going to still assess him and make a decision then tomorrow,” Krueger said. “At the moment, all I can say is it’s a day-to-day situation.”
NOTES: Sabres C Rasmus Asplund played in his first career game. The 21-year-old had plenty of burst and played in 12 minutes. ... LW Johan Larsson (upper body), D Colin Miller and D John Gilmour were scratched for the Sabres. It was Larsson’s first missed game of the season. ... D Cody Goloubef and Mikkel Boedker were scratched for Ottawa. ... Senators RW Tyler Ennis spent the first eight seasons of his career with the Sabres (2009-17) after being chosen 26th overall in 2008. ... The next meeting between the teams is Monday, Dec. 23 in Ottawa.
Senators: At Detroit on Tuesday.
Sabres: At Chicago on Sunday.
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