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Sabres Notebook: Eichel not yet at practice but Matthews close to return

There's no word yet on any sort of timetable for Jack Eichel's return to the Buffalo Sabres' lineup. Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs appear to be on the verge of getting Auston Matthews back, but his return may not come when the teams meet Thursday in KeyBank Center.

The Sabres are 6-6-2 without Eichel, who suffered a high ankle sprain Feb. 10 at Boston and has resumed skating on his own but has yet to practice. His timetable is officially listed by the team as indefinite although it's known the club was working on a progression of 4-6 weeks. Eichel hit four weeks with Saturday's shootout loss to Vegas.

Matthews, who has been out since Feb. 22 with a shoulder injury, practiced Monday in Toronto in a red (no-contact) jersey but made it through an entire workout that went about an hour. Afterward, Toronto coach Mike Babcock ruled Eichel's friend and All-Star teammate out of Wednesday's home game against Dallas but did not go deeper into the schedule.

"He’s obviously feeling way better,” Babcock said. "I noticed when we were doing the contact stuff he didn’t do as much of that, didn’t dive right into it. I never talked to anyone about that, it’s just what I noticed. I’d suspect he’d be pushing, not for the Dallas game, but after, I don’t know when."

Mike Harrington: Eichel and Matthews make their point

After Thursday's trip to Buffalo, the Leafs have a home game Saturday against Montreal. They have won a franchise-record 10 straight games in the Air Canada Centre and host the Sabres in the ACC on March 26 and April 2.

"As he feels better, he’ll get involved more," Babcock said of Matthews. "It doesn’t matter who is in the lineup, we expect to win. We have to be dialed in.”

Matthews has also missed time this year with a concussion and a back problem. The Leafs are 8-6-2 in the 16 games he's sat out to date, including Saturday's 5-2 win over Pittsburgh. Matthews has 50 points in 53 games this season (28 goals, 22 assists). Eichel has 53 points in 55 games (22 goals, 31 assists).

Matthews and Eichel both missed the Sabres' 5-3 win over Toronto here on March 5. Assuming Matthews doesn't play Thursday, it will mean he will go more than 18 months without playing a game in KeyBank, the building where he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2016. His last game here was on April 3, 2017, and the 2018-19 schedule would not start until October.

Mike Harrington: Season's dog days show question marks for Leafs

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With five days between games, the Sabres took their second consecutive day off Monday. They will return to practice Tuesday in HarborCenter.

The Sabres remain 30th in the NHL's overall standing, one point ahead of last-place Arizona. But the red-hot Coyotes can overtake Buffalo with a win Tuesday night against Los Angeles. It's the second game of a five-game homestand that Arizona opened with Sunday's 1-0 win over Vancouver.

The Coyotes are 10-3-2 in their last 15 games, with their 22 points in that span tied for fourth-most in the NHL since Feb. 8. The only teams ahead of them entering Monday were Nashville (12-2-2, 26 points), Tampa Bay (12-3-1, 25) and Florida (11-3-1, 23). The Sabres are 8-6-2 in that span and tied for 11th.

The Coyotes, however, will be without coach Rick Tocchet for an unspecified period as he was granted a leave of absence by the team Monday afternoon to deal with a family illness. Assistant John MacLean, the former head coach in New Jersey, will run the Coyotes in Tocchet's absence. The team did not provide any other details on Tocchet's situation.

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The Carolina Hurricanes are in the market for a general manager after new owner Tom Dundon kicked Ron Francis into the role of president and announced a new GM would report directly to the owner's office. Their search has apparently taken them through Buffalo.

TSN's Bob McKenzie reported Monday that the Canes asked for permission to interview Steve Greeley, one of the Sabres' two assistant GMs, and have completed that discussion. Greeley and Randy Sexton were hired by Jason Botterill last spring to join the Buffalo front office. Sexton, who had spent the last seven years with Botterill in Pittsburgh's scouting department, is serving this year as the GM of the Rochester Amerks.

Greeley, 37, had spent the last two seasons as assistant director of player personnel with the New York Rangers. He spent the 2013-14 and 2014-15 season as an associate coach at Boston University, where he worked with Eichel, Evan Rodrigues and Danny O'Regan. He spent seven seasons (2006-13) as a scout for the Los Angeles Kings.

According to TSN, the Hurricanes are believed to be reaching out to many candidates who have been mentioned in the Sabres' last two GM searches. They would include New Jersey's Tom Fitzgerald, Los Angeles' Mike Futa, Nashville's Paul Fenton and Tampa Bay's Julien Brisebois.

The Hurricanes currently have the longest playoff drought in the NHL, not qualifying since 2009. That is the only year that they have reached the postseason since they won the Stanley Cup in 2006, the year they beat the Sabres in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final.

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Stats update:

  • With a record of 10-19-5, the Sabres continue to be last in the NHL in home wins and points (25). They entered Monday tied with five other teams for 17th in the league in road points at 31, with a record of 12-16-7. They were tied for ninth in the East in road points with Columbus (14-17-3) and Pittsburgh (14-18-3).
  • The Sabres continue to have the worst goal differential in the NHL at minus-59 and are last in the league in per-game scoring overall (2.37 goals per game) and at home (2.29). Buffalo is 27th on the road (2.46). On the overall list, Arizona is just ahead of the Sabres at 2.38.
  • The Sabres' nine short-handed goals start the week one off Florida's NHL high of 10. They've also allowed nine, and only Arizona (10) and Colorado (12) have given up more.

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