Young superstar Jack Eichel made his long-awaited return for the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday, and he didn't wait very long to make his presence felt. Eichel had a goal and an assist in the first period to lead the Sabres to a 5-4 victory over the Ottawa Senators.
He'll look to build off that commanding performance in his home debut Thursday night against the New York Rangers. Eichel missed the first 21 games of the season because of a high ankle sprain.
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“That's the kind of the spark we were looking for when we need a little bit more offense,” center Sam Reinhart told the Sabres web site. “I think it elevated a bunch of guys' games; it just kind of gave us that little more confidence out there that we can play with the puck and make plays.”
Indeed, Eichel's presence caused a ripple effect throughout the entire Sabres' roster against the Senators. The NHL's lowest-scoring team scored two goals or fewer in its previous 13 games before erupting for five against the Senators.
Eichel's goal was a beauty. The 20-year-old ripped a quick one-timer on the power play 6:16 into the game.
“I think it adds a big dimension to our team, right from the beginning on our power play,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma told the Sabres web site. “A different level of execution, a different level of speed. He gets the power-play goal, the first one's a great pass play and the second one is something we've sorely missed on our power play, the one-time from Jack.”
Ryan O'Reilly had two goals, including the game-winner, for Buffalo (8-9-5) against Ottawa.
Backup goaltender Anders Nilsson is expected to start after No. 1 Robin Lehner suffered a hip injury against the Senators. Lehner is considered day-to-day.
“I don't have any further update other than what we gave (Tuesday) night, it's hip and it's day-to-day,” Bylsma said. “He's lobbying to backup tomorrow but he's going to see how it is in the morning.”
The Rangers (16-7-1) are coming off a 3-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night. New York came from behind and scored twice in the third period to pick up the victory.
Power forward Rick Nash was the standout against Carolina with a goal and an assist.
“There's no doubt that Rick tonight was the leader of this team by his play,” coach Alain Vigneault told the Rangers web site. “He made some great defensive plays, obviously that first shift in the third where he tied it up for us and then made that great play on the power play. He played the type of game that we needed against a tough opponent.”
The Rangers are looking to win two games in a row for the first time since mid-November. New York is 3-3-1 in its last seven games. Before that, the Rangers won eight of nine.