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Wednesday Night Rivalry

5 Reasons to watch Sabres-Blue Jackets

Buffalo trying to recover from slow start entering visit to Columbus for Wednesday Night Rivalry game

by John Kreiser @jkreiser7713 / NHL.com Managing Editor

The Buffalo Sabres want to get to where the Columbus Blue Jackets are now -- a once-struggling team that has rebuilt to become a contender. The Blue Jackets, who have won five of their first eight games and are coming off their best season since entering the NHL in 2000, host the Sabres in this week's Wednesday Night Rivalry game (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV).

The Blue Jackets (5-3-0) are trying to build on a 108-point season that ended with a disappointing loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference First Round. Columbus won five of its first six games but have lost its past two.

The Sabres (3-5-2) haven't qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2011. To break that streak, they'll have to overcome a slow start. They've won back-to-back games, including a 1-0 home victory against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday, after opening the season with one win in their first eight games.

 

Here are five reasons to tune in:

Jack Eichel

The No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft is on pace for his best season, with 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in Buffalo's first 10 games. He's on pace to show the Sabres made the right move when they signed him to an eight-year, $80 million contract extension on Oct. 3. Eichel is the kind of cornerstone player rebuilding teams have to have, and he's wasting no time proving he can live up to the pressure that goes along with signing a mega-contract.

Video: Discussing Jack Eichel's stunning goal vs the Canucks

 

Evander Kane

Kane is on track to surpass his career scoring highs of 30 goals and 57 points, set with the Winnipeg Jets in 2011-12. He had 20 and 28 goals in his first two seasons with the Sabres, but already has 11 points (six goals, five assists) in his first 10 games. At 26, he's turning into one of NHL's best power forwards.

Video: NJD@BUF: Kane chases down puck, slips home PPG

 

Artemi Panarin

Panarin was acquired by the Blue Jackets in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on June 23, but there were questions as to how well he would fare without Patrick Kane. The two were linemates in Panarin's first two seasons in Chicago. But Panarin has picked up in Columbus where he left off in Chicago, putting up nine points (one goal, eight assists) in eight games, and has fit in well with his new team offensively and defensively.

 

Sergei Bobrovsky

The two-time Vezina Trophy winner (2013, 2017) is off to another fine start. Bobrovsky has started six of the Blue Jackets' eight games and is 4-2-0 with a 2.16 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. That's close to the numbers that earned him the Vezina last season (2.06 GAA, .931 SV%, each leading the NHL). He gives Columbus the kind of night-in, night-out excellence in goal winning teams rely on.

Video: LAK@CBJ: Bobrovsky flashes the leather for great save

 

Raised expectations

This is a big game for each team because the bar for what constitutes a successful season has been raised. After their unexpected success last season, along with a roster packed with young talent, the Blue Jackets are expected not only to make the playoffs but win at least one round for the first time in their history. After six straight non-playoff seasons and a regression in 2016-17, the Sabres changed their coach and general manager. They were expected by many to compete for a playoff berth. But after stumbling during the first three weeks of the season, they need some wins soon to avoid falling too far behind in the playoff race.

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