Evander Kane will make his return to the Sabres' lineup against the Ottawa Senators at KeyBank Center on Wednesday night. Whether he'll have Ryan O'Reilly as his centerman remains to be seen.
Kane skated with the team on Wednesday for the first time since opening night, when a crash into the boards left him with cracked ribs. He has been skating with Dennis Miller, who specializes in rehab and development, since last week and adding incremental physicality to those sessions.
"He's been eager to get back the last week and he's been working hard off the ice," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "He's gone through numerous practices, physicality, with what we can produce off the ice … Before we left for the trip for Ottawa and Boston he reassured me that he would be ready to come back for this game.
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"It's well enough where I can play and contribute and I feel I can be a difference maker on the team," Kane said. "I'm looking forward to proving that."
If the morning skate is any indication, Kane will play on the left wing on Buffalo's top line and fill in immediately on the power play. He skated on a line opposite Kyle Okposo, with O'Reilly likely to serve as their centerman should he be able to play.
O'Reilly was absent from the morning skate on Wednesday along with Tyler Ennis. Ennis skated a mere 7:33 of ice time in Boston on Monday after missing practice one day prior and has been ruled out by Bylsma with a "middle-body injury." O'Reilly is a game-time decision.
Meanwhile, forward Hudson Fasching also returned to the ice with the team after missing the last four games due to a groin injury. Fasching sustained his injury during the first period of Buffalo's game in Winnipeg on Oct. 30. He will not play against Ottawa, but is a possibility for the game against New Jersey on Friday.
With Fasching and Ennis out, the team is currently without an extra forward. If O'Reilly cannot play, Bylsma said, the Sabres would need to recall a forward from Rochester to fill the void in the lineup.
Bylsma said Wednesday that his offense has been done a better job at producing scoring chances so far this season than they did in his first year as coach last season, but that it might not yet be enough for them to score goals as they rate they'd like. Through 12 contests, the Sabres rank 28th in the League with 2.08 goals per game.
Kane, who finished fourth on the team with 20 goals in 65 games last season and led the team's forwards with a 51.8 Corsi-for percentage, could be an ideal remedy to that problem.
"We know he's a shooter," Sabres forward Marcus Foligno said. "If he gets a shot off there's a good chance it's going in. I think with Evander if you're on his line or someone going to the net, you've got to make sure second chances and third chances are there."
Robin Lehner will start in net after earning the win against his former team with a 32-save performance when the Sabres met the Senators in Ottawa on Saturday.
Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with TOPS Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B, or you can listen live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m.
An update on Jack Eichel
It's been four weeks since Eichel sustained a high-ankle sprain at practice on the eve of Buffalo's regular-season opener, and Bylsma said a visit to the doctor on Wednesday should indicate whether he's able to take another step in his progression towards returning to the ice.
"I don't want to suggest that it will be today or tomorrow or the next day that he's getting on the ice but he's progressing quite nicely," Bylsma said. "He's been working out on another level the last four or five days and hopefully he continues to progress to get him to the ice soon.
Lines at practice
The lineup remains subject to whether or not O'Reilly is able to play, but here's how the lines looked at the morning skate.
9 Evander Kane - 52 Hudson Fasching (serving as a temporary placeholder for O'Reilly) - 21 Kyle Okposo
82 Marcus Foligno - 22 Johan Larsson - 12 Brian Gionta
26 Matt Moulson - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 23 Sam Reinhart
48 William Carrier - 27 Derek Grant - 73 Nicholas Baptiste
4 Josh Gorges - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
77 Dmitry Kulikov - 34 Casey Nelson
29 Jake McCabe - 6 Cody Franson
40 Robin Lehner
31 Anders Nilsson