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Sabres hope to rebound for fans in final home game

Okposo remains absent; Players react to Olympic decision

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Robin Lehner said he could feel it right from puck drop. The Buffalo Sabres simply didn't have the same gear that the Toronto Maple Leafs had to begin their game on Monday night, and what followed was a first period that Lehner said was as bad any they've had all season.

By the time six minutes had passed in the game, the Sabres already trailed 3-0 and Lehner had been pulled. 

"They came out with a goal and we didn't really have one," Lehner said. "It's a skilled team over there, good players and they came out with a goal." 

Buffalo's goal on Wednesday night, which will be Fan Appreciation Day at KeyBank Center, is to not let a performance like that one be the last thing their fans see from them this season. The game against the Montreal Canadiens will conclude their home schedule. 

"As far as I know, it's a pretty full building every time we're here," Lehner said. "They're very supportive fans. They deserve better. They deserve better than what they've got. We can't give up, we can't lie down and give up. You've got to keep working. You've got to keep going towards the goal and get better as a team. It's what this town and this city deserves."

Video: LEHNER: After Practice

Jack Eichel pointed to a game against the New York Islanders on Sunday as an example of that support. It was a Sunday afternoon in which the Sabres had already been eliminated from the postseason and the Islanders were just barely clinging on to their own playoff aspirations, and yet the game was a sellout.

"I've got nothing but great things to say about these fans," he said. "They're nothing but great to us, nothing but great to me. My family, all my friends, whenever they're in town they treat them great. It's been a mediocre two years and for them to continue to support us and be behind us, selling games out … I'm sure that if we were in other cities it wouldn't be the same case so you've got to appreciate that as a player."

Video: EICHEL: After Practice

He continued: "More than anything it's a bit disappointing and a bit embarrassing for us as players that we can't be better for them. You want to please the fans because of all they've been through and all they continue to put with. You want to be better. It's disappointing that our season is ending like this … We've got one game left [to] just put it all out there for them and try to win a hockey game and bring some excitement into the building."

Coverage of the game on Wednesday begins at 7 p.m. on MSG-B. The puck drops at 7:30.


Tuesday's practice 

Now a full week after he was forced to miss the Sabres' game in Columbus due to an illness, Kyle Okposo remained absent from practice on Tuesday. Dan Bylsma said Okposo's condition has yet to improve, and added that Okposo has met with team doctors to try and get more information on his ailment.

With Okposo still absent, here's how the lineup looked at practice:

9 Evander Kane - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 12 Brian Gionta
82 Marcus Foligno - 15 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
49 C.J. Smith/70 Alexander Nylander - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 63 Tyler Ennis
48 William Carrier/44 Nicolas Deslauriers - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 26 Matt Moulson

4 Josh Gorges - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
29 Jake McCabe - 47 Zach Bogosian
77 Dmitry Kulikov - 6 Cody Franson
41 Justin Falk

40 Robin Lehner 
31 Anders Nilsson


Players react to Olympic decision

On Monday, the NHL released a statement announcing it would not create a break in the schedule next season to accommodate players to participate in the Winter Olympics in South Korea. You can read the full statement in the Tweet below:

Tweet from @PR_NHL: The NHL has released the following statement regarding the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

Players were asked to react on Tuesday, and they expressed disappointment with the hope that an agreement can be reached in the future. 

 "For someone who's represented USA Hockey before and takes pride in it, I don't want to speak for other guys but I'm sure they feel pretty similar, it's a bit disappointing," Eichel said. "The Olympics is a great event. It's something the whole world looks forward to, us included, so in terms of trying to grow our game I think it could have been a good opportunity for us and it usually is. I think it's a good way to bring our country together. It's just tough, you grow up watching it and you get to the point of playing professionally and it kind of goes away. So, a little bit sad."

Eichel has represented USA Hockey since a young age, having joined the National Team Developmental Program beginning in the 2012-13 season and represented Team USA at multiple World Junior Championships as well as the World Championship in 2015. 

On Tuesday, he thought back even further, to his experience representing the country at the Winter Youth Olympics in Austria back in 2012.

"I was a freshman in high school and wasn't really sure what I was getting in to and [it was] pretty special two weeks for me," he said. "Our team didn't do well but just being able to be there, you're living in an Olympic Village, you're with all the other athletes at the opening ceremony

" … To think about how special that event was and how good it was, just to imagine what the Olympics are like, it's probably that multiplied by 100. Obviously it's something that as a hockey player and professionally, you just deal with and move on."

Lehner, who was chosen for Team Sweden at the World Cup of Hockey this past summer but chose to stay with the Sabres as he worked his way back from an injury, expressed his disappointment in not being able to bring the game to a world stage.

"I know when the Olympics are on, I watch a lot of sports that I had never seen before that I think are pretty cool," he said. "I think it's the same way for hockey. People that haven't really followed hockey maybe get to tune in and become fans of a new sport. I think that's unfortunate."

Bylsma, who coached Team USA at the last Winter Olympics in 2014, offered perspective form both sides of the equation.

Video: BYLSMA: After Practice

"The Olympics is the best tournament in the world, and I like it when the best players are playing in the best tournament in the world," he said. "I think I've enjoyed that tournament as a fan, I've enjoyed it as a coach. As an NHL coach and team-wise, it's stuck in the middle of your season. It's a three-week break. It condenses the rest of your schedule. 

"I'm somewhat disappointed the best players aren't going to be playing in the best tournament, but I also understand it from the league's side and from the coach's side. It's a tough tournament to send your players to."

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