For the first month of the season, the Sabres had little movement within their forward group. Health and production allowed coach Ralph Krueger to roll the same four lines on a nightly basis, save for subtle situational tweaks made within games.
The injury bug has bitten often since the beginning of November, and it continued Tuesday. The team announced that Kyle Okposo sustained a concussion in Saturday's game against Ottawa and is out indefinitely, while Tage Thompson - who was recalled to replace Okposo - is expected to miss three to five weeks after sustaining an upper-body injury on his final shift last night.
The Sabres were already without Vladimir Sobotka, who is out four to six weeks, as well as Marcus Johansson and Johan Larsson, both of whom are day-to-day. Krueger said that neither Johansson nor Larsson will play against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday.
"It was a really long stretch with the same forward lines, and there was some good synergy there," Krueger said. "The processes seemed to be quite automatic, especially the way we want to be connected on the ice.
"Losing a forward a game now for five games in a row has been quite disruptive. But the guys are working hard to find the right path. It's a different kind of challenge, but it's a good one for us to get to know our ability to adjust and also get to know new players."
The Sabres practiced with 11 forwards and nine defensemen this afternoon. Zach Bogosian - entering his second week of practice as he continues the late stage of his recovery from hip surgery - filled in up front for some drills.
Krueger said the team will decide later this afternoon whether they will recall a forward from Rochester for Tuesday's game or play with seven defensemen. Remi Elie, C.J. Smith, and Scott Wilson are dealing with injuries in Rochester, leaving Jean-Sebastien Dea and Andrew Oglevie as the two options on NHL contracts.
Curtis Lazar and Rasmus Asplund have both taken on key roles since being recalled during the past week. Lazar scored in his debut Thursday; while Asplund has often been one of the first players over the boards on the penalty kill.
"There's good play from guys coming up," said Sam Reinhart, who's filled in as an alternate captain in Johansson's absence. "We're just going to need to do it by committee and not rely on one or two guys. You can't have the last two games with Eichs scoring all the goals.
"I think everyone's got to chip in that little bit extra, and it's a fine line of not trying to do too much."
On defense, Bogosian saw his status upgraded to day-to-day on Monday's injury report. Asked if he might return to the lineup at some point this week, he kept his sights focused on the day at hand.
"We'll see," Bogosian said. "Today I had another good skate. We'll just take it a day at a time. We're obviously being cautious about it. I think any time when you come back from a situation like mine, it's smart to just take it day to day. But I feel good, so that's positive news."
Jack at 20
We're 20 games into the season, and Eichel is once again off to the best start of his career. Here's a look at how his goal and point totals through 20 games have increased each season since he entered the league:
2015-16: 10 points (6 G + 4 A)
2016-17: 15 points (8 G + 7 A)
2017-18: 16 points (5 G +11 A)
2018-19: 18 points (4 G + 18 A)
2019-20: 24 points (13 G + 11 A)
Eichel said on the opening day of training camp that he wanted to have more of a goal scorer's mentality this season, and it's translated through the first quarter of the season. His five goals over the last two games boosted him into a tie with Nathan MacKinnon and Brad Marchand for sixth in the NHL.
Video: OTT@BUF: Eichel nets four goals against Senators
Nine of Eichel's goals have come at even strength - also a career-high through 20 games - placing him in a seven-way tie for fourth in the league, trailing Leon Draisaitl (15), Marchand (11), and Auston Matthews (10).
According to NaturalStatTrick.com, he's averaging 9.09 individual scoring chances per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, up from 8.11 last season.
Krueger spoke following Eichel's four-goal game on Saturday about the captain's mindset on offense.
"There's no question his hunger to make plays is larger often than his hunger is to shoot," he said. "… We've been speaking about it a lot lately in he really wants to get a balance. He wants to have that threat, it'll open up the guys for passes again.
"I'm sure this game will begin a good process in his mind to understand how lethal he can while still making plays as he also did tonight."