It hasn’t been an easy season so far for the Buffalo Sabres and their fans. Entering the 2016-17 NHL year with legitimate expectations to perform, fate seemed to stick a thorn in the team’s side when golden goose Jack Eichel sprained his ankle the night before the season opener. Despite not being old enough to drink, Eichel is the anointed savior of the Sabres franchise and is expected to be the man who will bring Buffalo its first Stanley Cup. In other words, the loss was a titanic one for Buffalo.
To the Sabres’ credit, the team did pretty well in the phenom’s absence and has managed to stay within postseason contention. Losing Evander Kane to broken ribs half-way through opening night vs. Montreal did not help the team’s problems, but Buffalo is only four points out of playoff spot as of 12/1. But, the team’s offense was lacking in a big way without Eichel, something that was evident night in and night out. Through their first 22 games of the season, Buffalo has scored a woeful 1.95 goals per game, the lowest total in the League.
On Tuesday, the Sabres’ patience and perseverance paid off as Eichel finally made his season debut against the Ottawa Senators, and the 20-year-old made his presence known immediately. The Sabres got on the power play early in the first and, seven seconds into the man advantage, Eichel helped set up Kyle Okposo to give the Sabres a 1-0 lead just 6:16 in.
Ottawa took another penalty less than two minutes later, and this time Eichel blew a one-timer from the left hash mark past Craig Anderson (who had stopped 120 of 125 entering the game) to give Buffalo a 2-0 lead before the period hit the 10 minute mark. Ottawa proved to be a worthy foe and fought back multiple times courtesy of a Mike Hoffman hatrick, but the Sabres held on to win a wild one 5-4. Besides Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly (2 G+1 A), Kyle Okposo (1 G+ 1 A), Sam Reinhart (1 G+ 1 A) and Rasmus Ristolainen (2 A) had multi-point nights for Buffalo. It was apparent by the start of the game and evident by the end that the Sabres were fired up by the Boston native’s triumphant return, as the team scored five goals for just the second time this season and the first since their second game of the year.
Buffalo has dealt with a plethora of injuries so far this year. Coming into the season with what was thought to be a solid offensive unit, big guns O’Reilly, Okposo, Kane and Zach Bogosian have also spent time as scratches.
With their core of talented young forwards finally healthy, the Sabres can start thinking about getting back in the swing of things in the Atlantic Division.
Buffalo next plays the New York Rangers at home on Thursday night at 7:00 PM. The long-awaited McDavid/Eichel round 2 is next Tuesday in Buffalo at 7:00 PM, be sure to see it!