OTTAWA — The offensively challenged Buffalo Sabres are expected to get a boost with the return of center Jack Eichel to the lineup when they visit the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Centre on Tuesday.
The 20-year old star missed the team's first 21 games with a high ankle sprain suffered the day before the season opener.
“You just want to get back to playing,” Eichel told The Buffalo News after practice Monday. “That's what you trained for all summer. You prepared for it, and it's tough that the season starts a little bit later for me. I'm just excited for it.”
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The Sabres (7-9-5) have lost their last two games while continuing to have troubles putting the puck in the net, averaging a league-low 1.81 goals per game. Eichel, who scored 24 times and added 32 assists as a rookie last season, will likely take a regular shift between wingers Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart.
The Senators (14-7-1) are not exactly what the doctor orders for teams will scoring deficiencies these days. They're coming off a 2-0 victory in New York against a Rangers team that leads the league with 3.70 goals per game. It was Ottawa's fourth win in a row, all with goalie Craig Anderson working between the pipes.
Anderson allowed just five goals in the four games to capture the NHL's first star of the week honors for the second time this month.
There is a strong chance he'll miss Tuesday's game to be with his wife Nicholle, who is battling throat cancer. That would mean Mike Condon would likely get the start against Buffalo.
“You use (playing) as a moment in time to do something positive with your teammates,” Anderson told reporters at Madison Square Garden after Sunday's shutout, the 36th of his career. “Hockey is one of those things where it's the same as if a (person) is feeling frustrated and they go to the gym to get a hard workout in. This is my way to vent and take all my energy and use it to do something good. It's staying in the moment. At that moment time stops and worry about life and other stuff after.”
Former Senators goalie Robin Lehner is expected to get the start in goal for Buffalo. In five games against his old team, Lehner has a 2-0-2 record with a .956 save percentage and a 1.30 goals against average.
This will be the teams' third meeting this month. The Sabres defeated the Senators 2-1 in Ottawa on November 5, when wingers Kyle Okposo and Reinhart scored third period goals.
The Senators won 2-1 in Buffalo on Nov. 9 when winger Bobby Ryan scored the decisive goal in a shootout.
Along with Anderson's sterling play, the Senators have shown a new dedication to playing defense this season. As of Monday, they were third in the league in blocked shots, a stat that pleases coach Guy Boucher to no end.
“When you've got Erik Karlsson, who is the best offensive defenseman in the world, being No. 1 in shot-blocking in the NHL, you know your team is going in the right direction,” said Boucher.