Still searching for consistency, Sabres host Oilers
BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres have Jack Eichel back, but they're still desperately looking for consistency — something they would like to see when they host the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday.
The lowest-scoring team in the NHL exploded for nine goals in Eichel's first two games back in the lineup last week, picking up victories over the Ottawa Senators (5-4) and New York Rangers (4-3).
They had lost the two games before that, however, along with the two games since. On Saturday, Buffalo fell 2-1 to Boston. On Monday night, the Sabres had a 2-1 lead but gave up a late goal to Washington before losing 3-2 in overtime.
“We have to try and fight our way up the standings,” Sabres winger Kyle Okposo said after the loss to Washington. “You might have some lulls in the season, but we already had ours. We have to make sure we're pushing forward and doing everything we can to get two points. Getting a point is OK, but we had the lead in the third.”
Eichel missed the first 21 games of the season due to a high ankle sprain and had a minor setback in the loss to the Capitals, but Sabres coach Dan Bylsma called the setback “fairly normal.”
Injuries continue to be an issue for the Sabres, particularly on defense. Erik Bergdorger played in his first NHL game against the Capitals after being called up from the AHL's Rochester Americans and was Buffalo's 11th different defenseman to play this season. Zach Bogosian (knee sprain), Dmitry Kulikov (lower back), Josh Gorges (foot) and Taylor Fedun (shoulder) have all been out.
The Oilers, like the Sabres, have a young core of players and are looking to finally turn the corner after several years of struggling. With a record of 14-10-3, the Oilers have gotten off to a better start than the Sabres.
Edmonton is coming off a 2-1 overtime loss to Minnesota on Sunday but had won its previous two games — 6-3 at Winnipeg and 3-2 in overtime against Anaheim.
In the overtime loss to the Wild, Edmonton avoided a scare in the second period when young superstar Connor McDavid hit his head on the ice and was pulled from the game by the league's concussion spotters to undergo the league's concussion protocol. Team doctors later determined that McDavid didn't suffer a concussion.
“I was pretty shocked, to be honest,” McDavid said, according to the team's website. “I hit my mouth on the ice. You reach up and grab your mouth when you get hit in your mouth. I think it's a pretty normal thing. Obviously, the spotter thought he knew how I was feeling. He pulled me off.”
McDavid has been lights out through the first third of the season. Through 27 games, he had a team-best 34 points (11 goals, 23 assists), which is 13 points more than the next-highest Oiler (Leon Draisaitl, 21 points).
“He's such an easy player to play with,” Draisaitl told the team's website. “He always wants the puck and he's so fast. I don't really need to talk about how good he is. Hopefully we can keep this going.”