One point separates the Buffalo Sabres and the Detroit Red wings from the basement of the Eastern Conference Atlantic Division and Wednesday night's meeting in KeyBank Center is proving to be an important early-season test for both teams.
The Red Wings are looking to stop a four-game slide while the Sabres are hoping to capitalize on momentum with their third straight win.
Here are five things you need to know for the 7 p.m. start:
1. Ryan O'Reilly returns to the lineup.
Coach Dan Bylsma officially called O'Reilly a "game-time decision" but expect to see the center back on the top line with Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo.
"I feel great the last two days," O'Reilly said after the Sabres skated Wednesday morning in KeyBank Center. "Back to 100 percent so it will be nice to get back out there. It feels like it’s been forever."
Forever for O'Reilly equals five games that he missed with an oblique injury. He's confident he's ready to return physically and knows that the onus is on him to manage his body.
"I think I’ve got to be smart," O'Reilly said. "It’s on myself now to take care of my body. I have to make sure I’m preparing the right way. ... After the game it’s the same thing – staying on top of it. We have a great medical staff here. I’ve got to listen to them and I’ll be fine."
O'Reilly has four goals and five assists in 13 games and his time away from playing allowed him to see the need to add some creativity to his game.
"I think watching other teams and their top lines, seeing some of the chances they take, I think to myself it’s time to make those special plays, those plays that give us a goal, give us the lead and bring us back," O'Reilly said. "I think sometimes, viewing my own game, sometimes I play too conservative; try to play perfect. I think I’ve got to be more creative. I’ve got to generate more; I’ve got to produce more."
2. There will be a trickle-down effect with O'Reilly in the lineup.
With O'Reilly returning to his first-line center position, look for Cole Schneider to be a healthy scratch. The Sabres lines during the morning skate were:
Evander Kane-Sam Reinhart-Zemgus Girgensons
Marcus Foligno-Johan Larsson-Brian Gionta
Derek Grant-Cal O'Reilly-William Carrier
3. Not much has changed in the bulk of the injury report.
Aside from Ryan O'Reilly returning and Jack Eichel skating with the team, yet still being a week or more away, the return-to-play program doesn't look speedy for defensemen Zach Bogosian (MCL sprain) and Dmitry Kulikov (lower back) or forward Nicolas Deslauriers (knee).
Bylsma said that Bogosian and Deslauriers are still "a long ways away" from returning. "Zach, I think three weeks today in his four-to-six-week range. Same thing for Nic."
As for Kulikov, Bylsma said "I'd like to say there was an update on him. We've been on day-to-day but it's more like a week-to-week time frame right now."
4. A pair of former Sabres return to Buffalo with the Red Wings.
Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott return to Buffalo with Detroit. Vanek was a first-round draft pick by the Sabres in 2005 and played eight seasons with Buffalo where he tallied 497 points, 254 goals, 106 power-play goals and 41 game-winning goals.
Vanek missed 11 games with a lower-body injury, scoring eight points in seven games before the injury. He returned in Detroit's last's game, a 3-2 loss to Calgary on Sunday.
Ott played in 107 games for the Sabres in parts of the 2012-13 and 13-14 seasons. He had 18 goals and 26 assists for Buffalo. With Detroit, Ott has one goal, one assist and 24 penalty minutes in 16 games.
5. Jack Eichel skated with the team.
For the first time since going down with a high-ankle sprain the day before the season-opener, Eichel was on the ice with his teammates. He took morning skate in a royal blue jersey, another step in his progression to returning to the roster.
"I've been skating for a pretty long time now so it's nice to get out there with a bunch of other people, instead of myself," Eichel said after the skate.
Dan Bylsma would not put a timetable on Eiche's return but said the center should start joining full practices with the team this week.
For more on Eichel, check out Mike Harrington's post.