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Mike Harrington: Caution is the right approach with Sabres' Eichel

Frankly, the way Jack Eichel's injury was being portrayed Sunday was quite a bit better than you would have expected. Especially after seeing the gruesome manner in which his right leg caved in Saturday night in Boston.

Linemate/roommate Sam Reinhart said Eichel felt better after his latest high ankle sprain than he did when he suffered the same injury on the opposite leg in practice the day before the opener last season.

Coach Phil Housley made it clear that Eichel is working to get back and there were still things to play for, referencing the team's 14 remaining home games after Sunday night.

Of course, the Sabres were ghastly without Eichel through much of their 5-4 loss Sunday to the Colorado Avalanche. Like they have been much of the season in KeyBank Center. Where was that team that played in Boston on Saturday?

The Wraparound: Avalanche 5, Sabres 4

In a season long lost, first reactions here are that the Sabres should just shut Eichel down. He sat seven weeks last year and missed 21 games. There's 26 games left in this season, which ends on April 7. That's a day short of eight weeks.

The Sabres are working on a timeline of 4-6 weeks but Housley cautioned it could be less than that. It also could be more. We'll have to see how Eichel progresses.

Eichel, of course, now knows how to handle this injury. Fair enough. If he can be back in 2-3 weeks, he's certainly playing. Otherwise, he should sit.

"We've got a lot to prove this season still," Housley insisted. "We've got a lot of games home here left. We want to win these games, not only for our fans but to build on things. We've been playing pretty good on the road and we have to turn that around at home."

Loss of Eichel leaves holes in Sabres' stats, confidence level

Watching multiple replays, you had to worry about Eichel's knee. A silver lining of the whole situation was that it was not that. No ACL, no surgery. No timeline of months that could have put the start of next season in jeopardy.

"You talk about ligaments, that's a whole new ballgame with surgery and things like that," said Housley. "If there was any good news that came out of it, that's the positive thing."

For his part, Eichel has to be alternately sick about another injury and downright disgusted, too.

There's no way Eichel wants to miss all four meetings against the Maple Leafs and good friend/All-Star comic partner Auston Matthews. Or the three games left with Tampa Bay and Steven Stamkos, a run that starts here Tuesday night. There are two games left with Nashville. Vegas is coming to town and so is Chicago, which still has its big names even without its accustomed place in the high-rent district of the standings.

Mike Harrington: Eichel and Matthews make their point

Eichel has 22 goals, 31 assists and 53 points in 55 games in what was headed for easily the best season of his three-year career. He played in his first All-Star Game two weeks ago in Tampa and was one of the game's standouts.

This has been the best stretch of Eichel's career, with 29 points over the last 23 games. Since Dec. 15, only Pittsburgh star Evgeni Malkin (35) points and Islanders rookie phenom Mathew Barzal (30) have more. Eichel was on his way to his first 30-goal output, probably his first point-a-game campaign.

Now two major injuries in two years. They were both flukes. You can't worry Eichel is injury prone. At least not yet. But he's going to now miss roughly a quarter of the season in two of his first three years in the league. Not good.

One sidenote to the Eichel injury: It was a fluke play. Boston defenseman Matt Grzelcyk is a former college teammate and obviously wasn't trying to hurt Eichel. But pushing a stick into the skate and then crushing an opponent is a scummy play. And it happened in the second period too when Grzelcyk drove Reinhart to the ice and crushed him against the boards. That had all the makings of the broken ribs Evander Kane suffered last season and Reinhart was lucky to emerge unscathed.

Call this corner old-school but there needed to be a message sent to Grzelcyk and the Bruins. Just like there needed to be one sent to Taylor Hall and the Devils a couple weeks ago after the terrible from-behind plummeting of Kyle Okposo.

No response from the Sabres. It's not Milan Lucic-level stuff but it nonetheless paints this club soft when it won't show any sort of agitation after Eichel, its No. 1 meal ticket, goes down. Asked about that point prior to the game, Housley wasn't interested in the notion.

"I think it's the duty of the officials to make the right calls," he said. "Grzelcyzk is not that type of player who's going to try to take somebody out. It was unfortunate he was just trying to get his stick down on the puck and it just happened odd."

The smaller point is true. How is the play not a penalty? Eichel had the puck and got dumped. But the bigger point: Why is Jordan Nolan on this roster if he's not going to respond to issues like these? Nolan took two penalties Sunday and should have been in the press box.

Eichel is down again and the Bruins didn't hear about it. The Sabres and their fans have to deal with the aftermath. Maybe for the rest of the season.

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