Other than some occasional shifts, Krueger kept the lethal duo separated before reuniting them for Friday’s practice inside Harborcenter.
Krueger has often explained he likes balancing the lines by placing a defensive presence on each one. So Skinner, who scored a career-high 40 goals playing beside Eichel last season, has mostly skated with centers Marcus Johansson, Curtis Lazar and Evan Rodrigues this season.
Nothing, it seemed, could convince him to put Eichel and Skinner back together.
Krueger kept them apart as the Sabres plunged down the standings and Skinner endured a career-long 23-game goal drought. When Eichel’s new left winger, rookie Victor Olofsson, missed six weeks of action, others substituted.
Then on Friday, a day after the Sabres suffered their fifth straight loss and Eichel’s point drought hit a career-long six games, Krueger put Skinner back on the No. 1 line with Eichel and Sam Reinhart.
Krueger, of course, tried to downplay the move. But the trio will likely play together in tonight’s road game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
“It feels like something we wanted to look at in the skate today and we’ll make that final call tomorrow,” Krueger said Friday. “But it’s just about getting our offense going and digging for combinations that can make that possible. …
“That will definitely be a potential option.”
Skinner, who showcases the same even-keeled personality in good times and bad, seemed unfazed by moving up beside Eichel.
“It doesn’t mean much,” he said. “It just means the coach changed the lines. I just keep trying to build on my game and keep trying to improve. Obviously, he’s one of the best players in the world, so he opens up a lot of space and he makes high-end plays.”
Eichel’s struggles – he has been battling an undisclosed injury – and the Sabres’ feeble offense probably forced Krueger to move Skinner up.
“Jack is showing a lot of character here,” Krueger said of the captain playing through the injury.
The Sabres have scored just nine goals during their five-game skid. If Eichel, their catalyst, isn’t generating offense, they’re probably losing.
Skinner hasn’t struggled all season. For the first two months, he kept producing without Eichel, scoring 11 goals the opening 28 games.
But after scoring Dec. 2, he did not register another goal until Feb. 22. An upper-body injury also sidelined him 10 games during that stretch.
Over the last seven games, however, Skinner has scored three goals, often looking like the player who earned an eight-year, $72 million contract before the season. He pumped eight shots on goal in a 4-2 road loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Feb. 28.
“Skins has been playing really well,” Eichel said. “He’s moving his feet, he’s been taking the puck to the net. I think he’s been one of our best players.”
Skinner developed chemistry playing with Lazar and 6-foot-2, 185-pound newcomer Wayne Simmonds.
“He’s a big, strong guy,” Skinner said of Simmonds. “He creates a lot of space for himself and also for his linemates. Lazar, too, I thought he was real solid down the middle there. I thought we did a good job on the forecheck. Yeah, I think he’s been a big addition.”
Jimmy Vesey replaced Skinner beside Lazar and Simmonds on Friday. Meanwhile, Olofsson skated with Johansson and Dominik Kahun.
Olofsson compiled three goals and five points in his first three games after returning from a lower-body injury. Now, he has a seven-game point drought.
“We have to realize with that lower-body injury that it’s difficult,” Krueger said. “It takes time to get back right up to speed. But he’s not complaining about anything and working through it. Victor Olofsson will get back to his pace.”