BUFFALO – The optics showed Jack Eichel had been demoted. For most of Monday, the slick Sabres center skated between Zemgus Girgensons and Jason Pominville, one of four new lines coach Phil Housley assembled.
Based on recent production, the trio Eichel briefly skated on was the third line. Just don’t tell Housley.
“There’s no third line,” Housley said prior to Monday’s 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets inside KeyBank Center.
Eichel has struggled recently, mustering only one goal and six points in the last 12 games. Overall, he has five goals and 17 points in 21 contests, not exactly the production anyone expected after he signed an $80 million extension last month.
In Saturday’s 3-1 loss, Eichel hardly hustled on Carolina’s go-ahead goal.
With their most dynamic player slumping, the reeling Sabres possess an anemic offense. Incredibly, they’ve scored two or fewer goals in nine of the last 12 outings.
So it was easy to call moving Eichel from Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart, wingers he has showcased strong chemistry with over the years, a demotion.
“I don’t think Eichel’s being demoted,” Housley said. “I think he’s such a terrific player I think you can put anybody on his wings.”
Did Housley have a message for Eichel on Monday morning?
“No message, part of the game,” Eichel said.
Of course, part of hockey is switching lines within games, and Housley did that later Monday, putting Eichel back with Kane and Reinhart.
Eichel played one of his best games in recent weeks, skating a 20 minutes, 54 seconds, assisting on Kane’s third-period goal and pumping five shots on net. He also hit the crossbar late.
“Jack was very determined tonight, and you could see it,” Housley said.
Early on, Housley put center Ryan O’Reilly between the scorching Kane and Reinhart, the new No. 1 line. Johan Larsson, meanwhile, centered Benoit Pouliot and Kyle Okposo. Rookie Kyle Criscuolo centered Seth Griffith and Jordan Nolan.
Housley said he wanted fresh linemates to revive confidence and create more balance in the lineup.
Sabres center Jacob Josefson, sidelined the last 14 games by a lower-body injury, skated with his teammates Monday morning. Housley said Josefson is day-to-day.
Meanwhile, Housley said defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, out the last seven games with an upper-body injury, has started skating but is week-to-week.
The Sabres had two healthy scratches, winger Matt Moulson and defenseman Casey Nelson.