Jack Eichel was back in his normal spot at practice on Friday morning, centering a line with Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart. The Sabres captain has finished serving his two-game suspension for an illegal check to the head against Colorado Avalanche forward Carl Soderberg and will return to the lineup for the team's road game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night.
Eichel admitted that sitting out the past two contests was no picnic.
"I think whenever you miss a game - hurt, suspended, whatever it is - I think it's tough to sit in the press box, for sure," he said. "You want to be out there competing as much as you can so, yeah, it stinks not playing. It's good that it's over and you just move past it."
The Sabres were shut out in two straight losses without Eichel, bringing their scoreless streak to three games. The conversation following a 5-0 loss to Pittsburgh on Thursday night centered on the need for more presence at the net-front, and it was the focus once again on Friday morning.
"We looked at it today, we went over it," coach Phil Housley said. "It's off our rush game with a middle-lane drive and a backside presence and just getting pucks to the net. And, once the puck's there, stopping there and trying to find second and third opportunities. We're gonna continue to work on it."
Eichel's presence should help the in the scoring department. He leads the team with 72 points and has recorded at least a point in 16 of 20 games dating back to the All-Star break. He might also help Skinner, who's mired in a 13-game goal drought despite leading the team with 38 scoring chances in that span, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.
"He's had a lot of opportunities," Eichel said. "He hits a couple crossbars the other night, he's been around the net, he's had his chances which is good. When you're not getting chances is when you start to worry."
With 12 games remaining and as many points separating the Sabres from a playoff spot, the deficit in the standings seems all but insurmountable. Eichel said that shouldn't affect the way they play in this final stretch, with personal pride on the line.
"I think we just compete every game because we're competitors," he said. "I think that's the biggest thing. I think everyone has something to play for here. The season's not over. We've got a big game tomorrow night against a team that's trying to get into the playoffs.
"We can play spoiler, we can play whatever you want to call it, but this is about pride. This is about playing for the logo, playing for the guy next to you. I think that's what's most important."
Zach Bogosian skated with the team after missing the game on Thursday with an upper-body injury. Marco Scandella did not practice and is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, but he will make the trip to Raleigh.
Housley said Bogosian's status for Saturday will be determined based on his reaction to practice, but the initial results were positive.
"I feel ready to go," Bogosian said. "It was just more of a precautionary thing yesterday. I had a good practice today and I felt good."
The Sabres mixed up their power-play units with Eichel back in the mix, which included Rasmus Ristolainen on the left flank of a unit with Kyle Okposo at the net front, Conor Sheary in the middle, Evan Rodrigues on the right and Brandon Montour at the point.
Ristolainen has historically manned the point on the power play, but his heavy shot makes him an ideal one-time option on the left side.
"I'm really excited," Housley said. "It's good to have Jack back, obviously, and I thought both units moved the puck around well and scored some goals so that's encouraging. It will be good to see Risto pound the puck from the flank."
Here's how the Sabres lined up:
53 Jeff Skinner - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
43 Conor Sheary - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 92 Alexander Nylander
72 Tage Thompson - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 29 Jason Pominville
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 21 Kyle Okposo
Extra: 17 Vladimir Sobotka, 20 Scott Wilson
48 Matt Hunwick - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 8 Casey Nelson
4 Zach Bogosian - 62 Brandon Montour
40 Carter Hutton
35 Linus Ullmark
PP1: Reinhart, Eichel, Skinner, Mittelstadt, Dahlin
PP2: Okposo, Ristolainen, Sheary, Rodrigues, Montour