Jack Eichel’s return to the Sabres lineup on Tuesday was a memorable one. Eichel fueled an abysmal offense and sparked a 5-4 victory on the road over the Ottawa Senators. It was Eichel’s first game of the season after going out with a high-ankle sprain suffered the day before the opener.
The injury kept the star forward on the shelf for the first 21 games of the season. Buffalo went 7-9-5 in that span. Eichel had an immediate impact, setting up the Sabres first goal of the game, making a sleek, cross-ice pass to Kyle Okposo; who’s shot was deflected into the Senators net early in the 1st period.
Eichel followed up the assist with a one-timer for his first goal, also coming while the Sabres had the man-advantage.
Buffalo took a 3-1 lead into the 2nd period where Ottawa tightened things up and found a way to battle back into the game. The Sens trailed 4-3 heading into the final period.
Ryan O’Reilly and Mike Hoffman added 3rd period power play goals to round out the scoring. Hoffman finished with a hat-trick while O’Reilly had two netters.
Robin Lehner was replaced by Anders Nillson late in the 1st period. Nillson finished with 26 saves in recovery. Lehner is considered day-to-day (Hip) and Buffalo will wait till Thursday morning before calling up a replacement.
Buffalo hosts the NY Rangers (16-7-1) at Key Bank Center Thursday.
The Rangers are a point out of 1st place in the Eastern Conference (Montreal). The Sabres are 15th but only 4 points out of the final wild card spot. Buffalo has lost 110 man games to injury already. Still missing Tyler Ennis, Zach Bogosian, Dmitry Kulikov and Nic Deslauriers. Eichel’s return could not have come at a better time.
Meanwhile, Lehner has been far too inconsistent and to frail to count on. Nillson is more then capable of solidifying himself as a No. 1 goaltender. This is his chance, right now. He might not be GM Tim Murray’s guy long-term, but given Lehner’s history, Murray may have to reconsider the pecking order between the pipes, at least for the immediate future.
Still, it’s nice to have Eichel back. Buffalo hasn’t scored 5 goals in a game since lighting the Edmonton Oilers up for 6 back on October 16th.