Jack Eichel continued to progress toward his eventual return to the lineup at practice on Thursday, which is certainly something for the Buffalo Sabres to be thankful for. After joining his teammates on the ice for their morning skate on Wednesday, Eichel was a full participant when the Sabres took the ice for a Thanksgiving practice at KeyBank Center.
Eichel will not travel with the team to Washington for their game on Friday night.
"He returned to practice yesterday, that was the first attempt was the morning skate," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "He won't go with us tomorrow, he'll get a better skate here and then he'll return to practice with us on Sunday."
Bylsma called the session on Thursday "another level of practice" for Eichel, which is a step in the right direction. While it wasn't the most physical of practices, Eichel did participate in line work and rush drills. You can watch a lot of what he worked on in today's Sabres in :90 with Brian Duff later in the day.
As the Sabres await Eichel's return, they currently sit four points out of a playoff spot after 20 games. That's a closeable gap, especially considering the injuries that have hampered the team early on. Still, their proximity to a wild card spot left Bylsma thinking about the points they've left on the table in overtime and shootout losses, of which the Sabres have five this season.
"We lament about a few points we left on the table with the shootouts and the overtime loss and you stand four points out of a playoff spot today," Bylsma said. "You just feel like with those four points and with the situation we've been in with our team for the first 20 games, we could be right there. But as it stands, we're only four points out of where we want to be and I think hopefully we'll get some players back and continue to move forward from here."
Lines at practice
Bylsma made changes to his lines in the third period of Buffalo's game against Detroit on Wednesday, and those changes remained in practice on Thursday. That includes Marcus Foligno playing on the left wing with Ryan O'Reilly, William Carrier bumped up alongside Sam Reinhart, and Evander Kane taking Foligno's old spot alongside Johan Larsson and Brian Gionta.
"I thought we needed a little spark with some speed and some physicality on that line," Bylsma said of the choice to play Foligno on the top line. "I thought with Larsson and Kane, they've had some brief times together - they've had some time together last year; they had a few games earlier in the year together - and I thought that gave us some good speed up front. Will Carrier stepped in in the third period there and added that as well."
Here's how the full lineup looked:
82 Marcus Foligno - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
48 William Carrier - 23 Sam Reinhart - 26 Matt Moulson
9 Evander Kane - 22 Johan Larsson - 12 Brian Gionta
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 19 Cal O'Reilly - 27 Derek Grant /10 Cole Schneider
4 Josh Gorges - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe - 6 Cody Franson
41 Justin Falk - 38 Taylor Fedun
40 Robin Lehner
38 Anders Nilsson
Ovechkin heats up
The Sabres will have another opportunity to pull their record back to .500 in their road game against the Washington Capitals on Friday evening. Getting that win, however, will be no easy task. Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin is coming off of a hat trick against St. Louis on Wednesday that put his terrifying ability to shoot from anywhere in the offensive zone on full display.
"He's a dynamic player that kind of keeps you on your toes and keeps you guessing at all times," Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges said. "He's a guy that's dangerous when we has the puck anywhere inside the blue line. He has that shot that, no matter where he's standing, even if you think 'Oh, I'm close enough to him,' you're probably not. You've got to be right on top of him. If he gets that shot, it's dangerous."
Coverage of the game between the Sabres and Capitals on Friday begins at 4:30 p.m. with the TOPS Pregame Show on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 5 p.m.