In the Buffalo Sabres’ first preseason game Monday in Minnesota, Jack Eichel
stole the show by notching the game-tying assist and the game-winning goal in the third period. In their second game, at home against the Ottawa Senators, Evander Kane
was the star after scoring twice in his Sabres debut.
On Saturday night in Ottawa, the two will have a chance to combine their talents. Eichel will be centering a line with Kane and Tyler Ennis, one of four new combinations that will see the ice at Canadian Tire Centre.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. The game can be heard live on WGR 550 with Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray on the call.
Pairing Eichel and Kane, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said, was an experiment that he had planned back in the summer.
“Seeing the speed of Evander Kane next to Jack Eichel and [his] speed … [it is] possibly a deadly combination with those two guys going up the ice,” Bylsma said. “Hopefully we see some dynamic speed from both of them.”
Eichel has played between Matt Moulson and Zemgus Girgensons through all of camp thus far, including in that first game against the Wild. Kane, meanwhile, was assisted by Ryan O’Reilly on each of his two goals on Wednesday. Eichel will look to add to Kane’s scoring total against the Senators.
“He likes the puck, you could say that,” Eichel said. “He likes to have it, and obviously Tyler’s pretty skilled with it too. I think it’ll be important for us to work hard and make sure we’re supporting each other all over the ice.”
Another point to watch against Ottawa can be found on Buffalo’s second line, where Girgensons will return to center after spending the first part of camp on the right wing. Girgensons scored 30 points in 61 games as a center for the Sabres last season, but was moved to wing at the outset of camp to give Eichel a playmaker on offense as well as protection in the defensive zone.
Chad Johnson will start in net for the Sabres and is scheduled to play the full 60 minutes. Johnson stopped 15 of 17 shots in two periods of play in his preseason debut against Minnesota, his first game action since sustaining a season-ending ankle injury after being traded to Buffalo in March.
Bylsma had said that he expects to play both Johnson and Robin Lehner, Buffalo’s top two goalies on the depth chart, two full games each over the course of the preseason.
McCABE GOING BACK TO BACK
After playing what Bylsma thought was his best game to date on Friday in Toronto, Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe is back in the lineup on Saturday. McCabe earned an assist on a short pass to Sam Reinhart that set up Nicolas Deslauriers’ goal in the second period against the Maple Leafs.
“I think I felt better out there in general,” McCabe said. “After three hard days in camp, playing in Minnesota, I think everyone was a little gassed but last night I think we had better legs and I felt a little more comfortable.
“Still getting used to playing on the offside but there were definitely some good shifts and bad shifts, I’d just like to take out those bad shifts tonight and continue to have the good ones.”
Entering his second full pro season, McCabe has made it his goal to earn a spot on the NHL roster coming out of camp. While Bylsma has been impressed with McCabe’s physical strength and skating ability, he’d like to see more consistency from the young defenseman and his entire defensive unit in terms of playing of playing cohesively.
McCabe, too, has seen room for improvement in his game thus far. But he’s not looking back, especially with a quick turnaround tonight.
“There are four more games left including this one, so who knows how many you’re going to get? This could be my last one, I could play the next four, it’s all a crapshoot,” he said. “So really, you’ve just got to take each game and give it your all.”
AKESON HIT DEEMED LEGAL
Sabres forward Jason Akeson will be in the lineup in his hometown Saturday night after a hearing by the Department of Player Safety determined that no punishment was warranted for his hit on Senators’ forward Colin Greening on Wednesday at First Niagara Center.
Akeson, listed at 5-foot-10, delivered an open-ice hit that sent the 6-foot-2 Greening to the locker room in the third period of that game. Bylsma thought that head contact did occur on the hit, but that it was circumstantial and wasn’t surprised when his player was absolved of any wrongdoing.
“[Akeson] didn’t leave his feet and he was down and compact so I think I understand why they looked at it, because there was some head contact because of the position Greening was in, but I wasn’t surprised that there was nothing done,” Bylsma said.
9 Evander Kane- 41 Jack Eichel- 63 Tyler Ennis
48 William Carrier- 28 Zemgus Girgensons- 20 Jason Akeson
88 Jamie McGinn- 22 Johan Larsson- 73 Nicholas Baptiste
49 Jerry D'Amigo- 84 Philip Varone- 51 Jack Nevins
25 Carlo Colaiacovo - 5 Chad Ruhwedel
29 Jake McCabe - 38 Jerome Leduc
65 Matt Donovan- 46 Cody Franson
31 Chad Johnson
1 Andrey Makarov