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Sharpen Up: March 4, 2017

by Chris Ryndak @ChrisRyndak /

Buffalo opens up its 13th of a league-high 19 sets back-to-back games this season as the Sabres host the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at 7 p.m. at KeyBank Center

If, for whatever reason, you can't make it to the arena, you can join us for the Tops Game Night pregame show starting at 6:30 p.m. on MSG. You can also listen to the game live on WGR 550. 

Then we'll be right back at it tomorrow evening when the Sabres are in Pittsburgh for a 5 p.m. faceoff against the Penguins. The marathon season is quickly turning into a sprint as we hit the stretch run. 

Here's what you need to know.

This is the third of four meetings between the Sabres and Lightning this season. Tampa took the first two games in the season series (by a 4-1 score on Nov. 17 and a 4-2 margin on Jan. 12 - both games were played in Tampa). 

Video: Sabres in :90 (3/3/17)

Buffalo snapped its four-game losing streak on Thursday with a 6-3 win over Arizona. Jack Eichel recorded a goal and two assists, giving him 23 points (8+15) in 22 home games this season, including seven multi-point outings.

Entering play Friday, Eichel was tied with Patrick Kane for most points since the beginning of February (19) and led all NHL players with 16 assists during that timeframe.

He's logged 25 points (7+18) in his last 22 games, including eight multi-point outings during that stretch. The Sabres are 11-1-0 this season (and 20-4-0 in his career) when he has at least two points.

Eichel's .93 points per game this season ranked him 14th among all players with at least 20 games played this season entering play Friday. (Thanks to @SabresPR for those lovely notes)

He's also in the midst of a career-best eight-game point streak and we took a deeper look into his sophomore season in yesterday's Ice Level Practice Report.  

"I think, after a little bit, your ankle starts to feel better, you start feeling better again, you start making plays and you get back to the way you want to play," Eichel said following practice at HarborCenter on Friday. "I just feel better. I feel like I've been doing what I can do."

Only seven players who played their age 20 seasons in the last 20 years averaged more points per game than Eichel's .93: Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Connor McDavid, Steven Stamkos, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Kovalchuk and Anze Kopitar. 

"We've talked to Jack about averaging four shots a game for the year and using his shot," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. "I think by his nature, he's a playmaker, likes to have the puck on his stick and make plays, and really it's kind of up to him how many goals he's going to get and how often he uses his shot and how he uses his shot."


Injury update

Video: BYLSMA: After Practice

Kyle Okposo left Thursday's game early with a rib injury and Bylsma has ruled him out for tonight's game. Here's how the Sabres' lines shaped up during yesterday's practice:

9 Evander Kane - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 12 Brian Gionta
82 Marcus Foligno - 15 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
63 Tyler Ennis - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 26 Matt Moulson
56 Justin Bailey - 28 Zemgus Girgensons - 44 Nicolas Deslauriers

Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson are expected to split starts this weekend. 

Standings watch

With 65 points through 64 games, the Sabres are six points behind the Islanders for the second Wild Card spot (with one more game played) and seven back of the Bruins for third in the Atlantic. Boston has also played 64 games this season. 

Boston hosts New Jersey tonight while, looking around the rest of the Eastern Conference, the Rangers welcome Montreal to MSG, Dallas is in Florida, Ottawa plays the Blue Jackets on home ice, the Flyers are in Washington and Detroit is out west as they take on the Oilers.

On this day 45 years ago…

The Sabres acquired Rene Robert in a trade that completed the French Connection.

On tap today

Dan Dunleavy will have your video preview for you today and Jourdon LaBarber will have the written angle once the Morning Skate wraps up. Stick with us for updates throughout the day.

As we mentioned, we'll have the Tops Game Night pregame show for you starting at 6:30.

Annnnnnnd be on the lookout today for the latest episode of Beyond Blue and Gold. We followed Okposo around during All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles and documented some of the cool things we was able to do there. 

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