Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-13-2016
Yes. We've been waiting for tonight for months. It's been a fairly inactive summer for Buffalo GM Tim Murray as he and head coach Dan Bylsma continue to mold the foundations into the future core of the Buffalo Sabres. However, that foundation took a big hit yesterday at practice when Jack Eichel went down with a high ankle sprain.
The howls of pain emanating from the 19 yr. old as he grabbed his leg on the ice resonated throughout the empty arena and reached far beyond the KeyBank Center walls hitting every Sabres fan right where it counts. After initial reactions ran rampant, once we found out that it was Eichel's ankle and not his knee, things began to come into focus a little more and initial diagnosis has him out for at least 4-6 weeks.
Six weeks will take us to Thanksgiving or 20 games into the Sabres regular season schedule. For a little perspective, Buffalo started the season 3-7 and through the first 20 games went 8-10-2 snaring 18 points. The Sabres finished final three-quarters of the season with a 27-26-9 record on their way to an 81-point season. To further the narrative, Eichel had six goals and four assists through is first 20 games with his first assist not coming until Game-14.
That said, with expectations high and the team poised to build upon what they were able to accomplish late last season, having your most dynamic player lost for a big chunk of time has a way of taking the wind out of your sails.
The band will play on and tonight Buffalo hosts the Montreal Canadians at KeyBank center. With Eichel out and various players nursing injuries, Bylsma has good reason to juggle his lineup tonight especially in the top six. Ryan O'Reilly, who was suffering from back spasms skated with the team and will be in tonight while Kyle Okposo, who got labeled with a puck to the knee in practice also skated with the club this morning but he's been ruled out for tonight.
In a bit of a cosmic balance, former Vezina winner Carey Price will not be in net tonight as he's back in Montreal battling a flu bug. In his place will be Al Montoya, whom the Canadiens signed this summer.
According to reports from the morning skate the lines look to be as follows:
Evander Kane-Ryan O'Reilly-Sam Reinhart
Tyler Ennis-Johan Larsson-Marcus Foligno
Matt Moulson-Zemgus Girgensons-Hudson Fasching
Nicolas Deslauriers-Derek Grant-Brian Gionta
Dmitry Kulikov, who's still suffering from a tailbone injury after being checked into the edge of an open bench door, will not make his Sabres debut tonight. He'll be replaced on the blueline by Casey Nelson. As for the d-pairings, Jourdon LaBarber of Sabres.com answered a tweet by saying that there were no pairs in the morning skate only that, in no particular order, Nelson, Rasmus Ristolaien, Zach Bogosian, Jake McCabe, Josh Gorges and Cody Franson will be in the lineup tonight.
After Wednesday's practice, John Vogl of The Buffalo News said Bylsma hinted at these pairings:
Without Kulikov we could be seeing Nelson paired with Franson.
Starting in goal for Buffalo will be Robin Lehner.
As for Eichel, Bylsma told the gathered press that his ankle sprain is "moderate" and that it will be a matter of weeks, not days, before he returns to the lineup and players will need to step in his absence.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who have to step up,” said Larsson to the gathered media. The 24 yr. old, who's jumping into the top-six with the absence of Eichel and Okposo knows he needs to step up as well. “I want to play my role as good as I can but also be better offensively, be more consistent, chip in some goals,” said Larsson.
The heavily scrutinized Kane also chimed in. "It's pretty disappointing the way it all happened, being close to the end of practice," he said. "Everybody saw it and it didn't look very good."
Kane lost his center when Eichel went down but said that "guys have to fill different roles, and in that sense, we have a guy in 'Factor' (O'Reilly) who is a pretty special player in his own right and does a lot of special things so I'm looking forward to playing with him.
"The desperation level to have a good start just heightened a lot more."
Reinhart was not only Eichel's winger, but his roommate as well said, "You're not going to make up for him but you can all play your role, do your part and make his impact less felt.
"It's going to be tough. You hope he recovers fast and we're all going to do our part to support him and help him get back as quick as possible."
And the band played on.