The Buffalo Sabres prepare to start the season without Jack Eichel, hosting the Montreal Canadiens in KeyBank Center at 7 p.m. Thursday. Here's what you need to know:
1. Lineup changes. As expected, forward Kyle Okposo will not be in the lineup as he continues to deal with a bruised knee he suffered during training camp. Also missing will be defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, still dealing with an injury he sustained in a preseason game against Toronto. Casey Nelson will take his spot in the lineup.
2. Line combinations: With Okposo and Eichel out, the line combinations at Thursday's morning skate were:
Evander Kane-Ryan O'Reilly-Sam Reinhart;
Tyler Ennis-Johan Larsson-Marcus Foligno;
Matt Moulson-Zemgus Girgensons-Hudson Fasching;
Nicolas Deslauriers-Derek Grant-Brian Gionta
3. Bringing health back: Ennis and goaltender Robin Lehner return healthy to the Sabres lineup. Lehner missed much of last year with a high ankle sprain while Ennis spent the last months out with a concussion. "It’s real encouraging," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said of their return. "We’ve seen them now just in training camp and you know you’re on the cusp of having Robin in net and strong in net. The way he’s played in preseason just gives you anticipation for what he could be this year for us. Tyler Ennis is a guy who having missed 60 games or so last season, you anticipate what he could bring to our lineup and the goals he can bring to our lineup."
4. The O'Reilly factor: Ryan O'Reilly will be back in the lineup after missing the last part of the preseason with a back injury. But he will be limited on faceoffs.
"He’s a guy who wants to do everything, will do everything. ... You do have to put the reigns on him a little bit," Bylsma said. But the only area of real concern is the faceoff circle where O'Reilly led the team and ranked fourth in the NHL last season with 1,821.
For his part, O'Reilly is ready to reduce his time, for now, taking faceoffs.
"I’m not going to take as many as I normally do but still I feel strong," O'Reilly said. "Going into it now I could probably do it but it’s just a long season. If this were the Stanley Cup Finals I’m sure I’d be taking every one I possibly could but right now let’s make sure it feels good and ease back into it and not overdue it right away."
Look for O'Reilly to take faceoffs against right-handed players while Kane and Reinhart go against left-handed players.
5. Leadership roles. Brian Gionta returns with the "C" on his sweater while Ryan O'Reilly and Josh Gorges will be alternate captains this season.