The 20-goal mark has long been a standard in hockey. In this low-scoring era, the milestone has an increased importance.
Just months into their NHL careers, the youngsters drafted second overall and charged with leading the Sabres back to glory have already become cornerstone talents.
Reinhart scored his 20th goal on the power play 2:07 into Friday’s 3-1 win against the Ottawa Senators, beating goalie Craig Anderson in front, where the winger has quickly developed into a lethal presence.
Eichel, of course, was supposed to score 20 goals, and the center’s at 22 after scoring twice last Saturday.
“It’s hard to score,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “You get to the 20-goal mark and you have an accomplishment to get that many goals. Jack and Sam get there, it’s a nice number for both of them and a bright, bright future for the team with the two young players getting 20 goals apiece.”
The Sabres hadn’t had two 20-goal rookies since 1974-75, when Danny Gare and Peter McNab scored 31 and 22, respectively.
Eichel and Reinhart, who have recently showcase some supreme chemistry as linemates, later combined to create a nifty-tac-toe play for Zach Bogosian, who pinched in for an easy tap-in goal before the capacity crowd of 19,070 fans inside the First Niagara Center.
“It’s exciting to be young and produce right away, but I think it says a lot about the support I’ve had,” Reinhart said about scoring 20 goals. “I’ve been able to play with some pretty good players throughout this year. It says a lot about our group as well.”
That group relies heavily on Eichel and Reinhart, who have scored 25 percent of the team’s 170 goals.
Where would the Sabres, who will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season, be without them?
Eichel (49 points) and Reinhart (36) are also the first pair of Sabres rookie to hit the 35-point mark since Ray Sheppard, Pierre Turgeon and Calle Johansson in 1987-88.
Their goals, Bogosian said, are created with raw talents and smarts. Still, they’re different players. Eichel is much more explosive.
“They definitely score their goals differently,” Bogosian said. “Sam’s a great net-front guy, he’s got good hand-eye coordination. As a defenseman, you know when you’re shooting it on net he’s mostly likely to get a stick on it. It’s impressive to see … how they’re scoring them.”
The Sabres’ 14th home win was one of their most complete this season.
After Alex Chiasson tied it at 5:33, Nick Deslauriers put the Sabres back up, zooming to the net and connecting on Ryan O’Reilly’s pass from the right wall.
“When you play with Ryan, you know he’s going to make that play and just one knee down and I didn’t have to do much,” Deslauriers said. “It just hit my blade and went in.”
Unlike Wednesday’s 3-2 overtime loss to Montreal, another game in which they started quickly, the Sabres kept their foot on the gas. When Bogosian scored at 9:53, the Sabres enjoyed a rare two-goal lead.
“It’s been a while since we had that lead,” Bylsma said. “It was a focus for us going out in the second period. We wanted to keep it going and put the gas down and continue to get the next goal.”
Reinhart added: “To get that first one early and that next one right after, that got us going on the right page and we followed that up.”
The Sabres followed up later on with more physicality. Fresh off Wednesday’s intense tilt, the Sabres played another chippy affair against their longtime division rival.
Rasmus Ristolainen briefly fought, Chiasson, the defenseman’s first NHL scrap. In the third period, Bogosian jumped Dion Phaneuf after he hit Reinhart in the head. Bogosian received two roughing penalties. Phaneuf received two minutes for an illegal check to the head and a roughing call.
“Great job by him stepping in at the end for his teammate,” Bylsma said. “I like to see it.”
Bylsma said he hadn’t seen a replay of the hit.
Sabres goalie Chad Johnson made 32 saves in his fifth straight win. The Sabres play in Toronto tonight against the Maple Leafs.