BUFFALO – In about 10 minutes Tuesday, captain Jack Eichel scored twice during a wild third period, giving the Sabres a short-lived lead and equaling his goal output from the previous 25 games.
Eichel, 22, has quietly enjoyed a terrific season, compiling 27 assists and 34 points in the first 29 contests.
At his current pace, the slick center would have 76 assists and 94 points over 82 games, the Sabres’ most prolific offensive campaign since Daniel Briere enjoyed a memorable 63-assist, 95-point season in 2006-07.
But Eichel, who averaged 24 goals over his first three seasons, has struggled to score goals. At his current pace, he would net a career-low 20 goals.
It’s not surprising Eichel’s goal production has dipped. Jeff Skinner, his regular left wing, has already scored 20 times. Eichel, who considers himself a pass-first center, has created plenty of offense. Someone else, however, has scored.
Eichel has already compiled 20 even-strength assists, equaling his career high from last season.
Some of it boils down to “puck luck.” Eichel has pumped 123 shots on goal this season, an average of 4.2 per game. Last season, he registered 246 shots, 3.6 an outing.
Entering Tuesday, Eichel’s shooting percentage was a paltry 4.3, well below his career average of 9.3 percent. It jumped to 5.7 percentage after scoring two goals on a season-high eight shots Tuesday. He had a 10.2 shooting percentage last season.
Eichel possesses a lethal shot the Sabres probably wish he utilized more often. He one-timed defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen’s pass in the left circle for his first goal Tuesday, his first score in eight games.
“He put it right in the wheelhouse,” Eichel said of Ristolainen. “It’s a great play by him. I haven’t had a lot lately so it felt good.”
Eichel then scored from the slot with 7:03 left in regulation in the 4-3 overtime loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
After a slow start, Sabres winger Sam Reinhart has caught fire, compiling five goals and eight points in the last five games.
His four-game goal streak has coincided with the Sabres’ 0-2-2 stretch.
Reinhart scored in front of the net again Tuesday, tipping defenseman Nathan Beaulieu’s point shot past Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen.
“He’s making plays down low and in tight,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said of Reinhart. “He’s finding ways to get pucks to the net, he goes to the net hard. That’s where he scores most of his goals.”
Reinhart has compiled eight goals and 24 points in 29 games this season.
Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark on the noisy atmosphere in the rink Tuesday: “It felt like back home (in Sweden) when we play those derbies against the local teams. It’s always great fun. I love playing these games. It gets a little extra spice to it.”
The inaugural Sabres Skills Challenge will be held at 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 6 at KeyBank Center.
The Sabres will be divided into two teams for five challenges: hardest shot, accuracy showdown, puck control relay, power play challenge and shootout challenge.
Notes: Sabres rookie defenseman Rasmus Dahlin played a career-high 29 minutes, 15 seconds Tuesday. … The Sabres sent defenseman Matt Tennyson back to the Rochester Americans on Wednesday. He played for the AHL club later in the day. … The Sabres had Wednesday off.