Oilers’ and Sabres’ struggles overshadow McDavid-Eichel showdown

Edmonton Oilers will be missing their starting goalie Cam Talbot and defenceman Oscar Klefbom tonight against the Buffalo Sabres, as the flu bug continues to hit the team.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Jack Eichel sat at his locker lamenting how the slumping Buffalo Sabres must stop making excuses for what’s gone wrong.

"I think we should stop feeling sorry for ourselves," Eichel said of a team that was 0-5-2 in its previous seven games before hosting Edmonton on Friday night. "We just need to come together and work harder."

Down the hall, Oilers captain Connor McDavid had difficulty finding anything good to say about Edmonton’s dreadful start.

"Positives?" McDavid said, incredulously, as teammate Patrick Maroon broke into a laugh next to him. "I mean, we haven’t been very good this year, I think everyone’s made that very clear. When I think positives? Whew. I don’t know."

Whatever hype McDavid and Eichel generated in their previous matchups since being selected first and second respectively in the 2015 draft has been overshadowed by two franchises reverting to their losing pasts a little over a quarter into the season.

The slow starts also come on the heels of the two making off-season headlines by signing lucrative contract extensions to cement their roles as franchise players.

McDavid, the NHL’s MVP last season, signed an eight-year $100 million deal that will make him the league’s highest-paid player on a per-year basis. Eichel signed an eight-year, $80 million deal , which is tied for the 10th-richest contract in league history.

None of that money, which kicks in next year for both players, has made a dent.

The Sabres (5-13-4) sit last in the Eastern Conference standings, and 30th overall, while already in jeopardy of extending their franchise-worst playoff drought to a seventh season.

The Oilers (8-12-2) sit 14th in the West, and 29th overall, while showing few signs of a team that a year ago snapped a 10-year playoff drought while posting its first 100-point season since its Wayne Gretzky heydays of the 1980s.

Edmonton has taken a most notable step back. The Oilers opened 1-4 and have won consecutive games just once this year, with the past five games reflecting their yo-yoing inconsistencies.

After beating Vegas 8-2 on Nov. 14, Edmonton followed with three consecutive losses, including an 8-3 rout at St. Louis on Tuesday. The Oilers rebounded the next night with a 6-2 win at Detroit.

"We’re trying to string wins together. You know, we’ve found ways to string losses together," McDavid said. "You’re disappointed, yeah, but I mean, the only people who have any control over where this team is is us."

McDavid, at least, has been producing, having registered a point in all but five games this season. He entered the game at Buffalo with 10 goals and a team-leading 28 points, placing him sixth in the NHL scoring race.

Eichel’s inconsistencies mirror those of a team that has scored two or fewer goals 14 times and converted just 10 of 70 power-play chances. His 18 points are second on the team, while his six goals are tied for third.

Eichel denied his new contract is weighing on him.

"Our team hasn’t had a whole lot of success, myself included, he said. "So I think I’m putting pressure on myself more in terms of trying to help our team do better. And it has nothing to do with the contract."

McDavid said the Oilers are learning they can’t merely lean on the success they enjoyed last year.

"Like anyone else, it’s not fun coming to the rink and losing," he said, before finding at least one positive.

Unlike previous meetings against Buffalo, McDavid was reminded that not one question involved a comparison between him and Eichel.

"Perfect," McDavid said.

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