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Eichel scores in season debut as Sabres win in Ottawa

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

OTTAWA - If there's one thing we can say we know for sure about Jack Eichel, it's that he knows how to make an entrance. We saw that a year ago when he scored in his NHL debut, and we saw it again on Tuesday night when he electrified the Buffalo Sabres' lineup in his season debut at Canadian Tire Centre.

Before even 10 minutes had ticked off the clock on his sophomore season, Eichel had already earned a goal and an assist on a pair of power plays in the first period. He ended up with five shots in 17:08 of ice time while the Sabres went on to earn a 5-4 win over the Ottawa Senators.

"I was saying before the game right before we were about to go out that he's usually parked right on our couch at this time," said Sam Reinhart, Eichel's roommate and linemate. "That's the kind of the spark we were looking for when we need a little bit more offense. I think it elevated a bunch of guys' games, it just kind of gave us that little more confidence out there that we can play with the puck and make plays."

Dan Bylsma said earlier in the week that the top power-play unit he employed on Tuesday - consisting of Eichel, Reinhart, Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo and Rasmus Ristolainen - was the one he envisioned coming into camp in the fall. Injuries and other circumstances prevented that unit from ever coming together until Eichel returned to practice this past weekend.

It took seven seconds into their first power play of the night for that unit to show what it was capable of. Eichel quarterbacked the play with a pass across the offensive zone that split Ottawa's penalty killers and landed on Okposo's stick down low. Okposo attempted to send the puck back across the net to Reinhart, but his pass instead deflected in off of a defender to give the Sabres a 1-0 lead.

Video: BUF@OTT: Eichel records two points in season debut

Buffalo quickly earned another power play, and this time it was Eichel who waited to be fed in the left faceoff circle. He got a pass from O'Reilly and ripped a one-time shot that beat Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson to the near side. The Sabres had a 2-0 lead 9:31 into the contest, and Eichel's high-ankle sprain felt like a thing of the past.

"I think it adds a big dimension to our team, right from the beginning on our power play," Bylsma said of Eichel's presence. "A different level of execution, a different level of speed. He gets the power-play goal, the first one's a great pass play and the second one is something we've sorely missed on our power play, the one-time from Jack."

Eichel admitted that anxiousness got the best of him before the game and that the excitement spilled over onto the ice. He said he tired a bit in the second period, which is to be expected for a player seeing his first game action since October. 

Most of all, he was just glad to be back.

 "I'm a little bit tired," Eichel said, laughing. "I'm just happy to back in the swing of things. The ankle felt really good so I think that's a plus. We've got another big test at home [on Thursday] and I'm excited to play in front of the fans in Buffalo."


O'Reilly bears down

O'Reilly had been visibly frustrated with his lack of goals in the games he's played since returning from an oblique injury prior to Tuesday. He was able to shake off the cold spell with two goals against the Senators, including what turned out to be the game-winning goal late in the third period.
Senators forward Mike Hoffman scored three goals on the night, the first of which made it a 2-1 game with 6:37 remaining in the first period. O'Reilly answered with a goal of his own less than a minute later, cleaning up the rebound on a Josh Gorges shot with a backhand from the slot.

Video: BUF@OTT: O'Reilly loses helmet, nets backhander

"I just handled it and tried to get it up as quick as possible," he said. "Luckily for me it went in."

Thanks to another Hoffman goal at the end of the second period, the Sabres we're only leading by one when O'Reilly scored his second goal on the power play with 3:17 remaining in regulation. That extra cushion proved to be vital, as Hoffman scored his hat trick goal with Ottawa on the power play less than two minutes later.

Video: BUF@OTT: O'Reilly powers home his second of the night

Afterward, O'Reilly credited Eichel with providing a spark for the rest of the lineup.

"It's a momentum thing," O'Reilly said. "You go out there watching his line, they're possessing. He's making plays, they're creating. Coming on right after that, it's the same thing you kind of just feed off of it … It shows how good of a player he is."

O'Reilly wasn't the only Sabres forward who had a big night. Okposo (1+1) and Reinhart (1+1) both had two-point performances. Evander Kane set up Reinhart's goal when he forced a turnover along the boards in the offensive zone and banked a shot in off of Reinhart's skate.

"I think pretty much every one of our goals was one of those good feeling goals about guys getting puck to go into the back of the net," Bylsma said. "I don't know who actually scored, if it was Sam or Evander, but it felt good for Evander to shoot the puck and have it go in the back of the net.""


Lehner exits early

Robin Lehner left with an injury to his hip with 2:12 remaining in the first period and was replaced by Anders Nilsson. He'd return to the bench in the second period, but did not return to the game. Nilsson made 26 saves on 29 shots in 41:59 of ice time.

Bylsma said that Lehner is day-to-day. 

"He had it for about five minutes in the game and when he came out to play the puck he just had a cramp and it kind of tightened up on him," Bylsma said. "I don't want to say it's too long. It's probably more like day-to-day than anything else."


Up next

Eichel will make his home debut when the Sabres return to KeyBank Center for a game against the New York Rangers on Thursday night. Coverage begins with the TOPS Pregame Show at 6:30 p.m. on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7 p.m.

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