BUFFALO, N.Y. — Connor McDavid was stumped when asked what positives he could take out of the Edmonton Oilers’ dreadful start to the season.
“Positives?” McDavid said, incredulously, as teammate Patrick Maroon broke into a laugh next to him before Edmonton’s game at Buffalo on Friday.
“I mean, we haven’t been very good this year, I think everyone’s made that very clear,” he added. “When I think positives? Whew. I don’t know.”
The Oilers captain was still searching for answers after a 3-1 loss .
“It is frustrating and we need to get on a roll here,” McDavid said after the Oilers lost for the fourth time in five games, and failed to build off a 6-2 win at Detroit on Wednesday. “We talk about it, and we had a good effort in Detroit and get the result that we wanted, and had high hopes for tonight and just can’t get it going.”
Sabres center Jack Eichel was in a much better mood in Buffalo’s locker room down the hall.
After lamenting earlier in the day about how the Sabres can’t feel sorry for themselves, Eichel contributed with the eventual game-winning goal in helping Buffalo snap a 0-5-2 skid.
“Seeing the way we could play tonight, I think more than anything it should be a bit of a boost to everyone in the room, a little confidence,” Eichel said. “When we play the right way, when we do things, it’s rewarding.”
Whatever hype McDavid and Eichel generated in their previous matchups since being selected first and second respectively in the 2015 draft have 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 offseason 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 much of a dent.
The Sabres (6-13-4) 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 (8-13-2) 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 six 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 by beating Detroit before losing to the Sabres in a game they were 20 seconds away from being shut out for the second time this month.
“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 was held off the score sheet for just the sixth time this season against Buffalo. 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 73 power-play chances. He’s second on the team with 19 points and tied for second with seven goals.
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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