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Eichel brings offensive magic back to Sabres in his return

OTTAWA – A few minutes before Jack Eichel made his goal-scoring, playmaking, victorious season debut, Sam Reinhart had a few words with his roommate.

"I was saying he’s usually parked right on our couch at this time," Reinhart said. "It’s definitely nicer having him in the room."

It’s nice having him on the ice, too. The Sabres instantly became an offensive juggernaut with Eichel in the lineup. He had a goal and assist during his first 10 minutes of the season Tuesday, helping Buffalo drop Ottawa, 5-4.

"More than anything you just want to be out there and feel good and feel confident about your game and try to help contribute," Eichel said in Canadian Tire Centre. "You watch so much hockey that it makes you that much more excited to come back and play. I think that’s the case here."

Eichel’s return from a high-ankle sprain couldn’t have started any better. He had an assist during his third shift and a goal on his fourth. He skated 17:08, tying for the team lead with five shots while attempting eight.

"I’m a little bit tired, but I’m just happy to be back in the swing of things," Eichel said. "The ankle felt really good, so I think that’s a plus."

It took until the 22nd game of the season for Buffalo’s blueprint to fall into place. In addition to Eichel’s goal, the Sabres got two from Ryan O’Reilly and one each from Kyle Okposo and Sam Reinhart. Rasmus Ristolainen had two assists, while Evander Kane had one.

Those are the guys who are supposed to lead Buffalo. They did.

"Having Eichs back created a spark for us," O’Reilly said. "Watching him play, as a guy that tries to create, it gives me excitement. I get to see this guy. Their line goes out, him, Rhino and Kaner are moving the puck around, they’re getting chances. Our line, we want to feed off that. So next shift we try to do the same thing."

The five-goal explosion, which included three on the power play, was the best total since the second game of the season. Buffalo had scored two goals or fewer in 12 of the previous 13 games. They already had three with just 14:18 gone.

"We’ve struggled to score goals this year, and it’s great for us to put that number of goals up," Eichel said. "We need to just build on this."

The Sabres can keep it up if the slick passing and puck control continues. Led by Eichel, the Sabres connected on cross-ice passes and found open areas to beat Senators goaltender Craig Anderson.

"Eichs has a special gift to slow things down and control things and keep plays alive," captain Brian Gionta said. "You saw it there."

While it was the perfect return for Eichel, it wasn’t a perfect game. Ottawa dominated the second period as Buffalo seemed lost and rattled. Part of that was the sudden departure of goaltender Robin Lehner, who left with a hip injury late in the first period.

"I don’t want to say it’s too long of a deal," coach Dan Bylsma said. "It’s probably more like day-to-day than anything else."

Anders Nilsson earned the win in relief, stopping 26 of 29 shots. He’ll be in line to start Thursday when the New York Rangers visit KeyBank Center.

"We’ve got another big test at home, and I’m excited to play in front of the fans in Buffalo," Eichel said. "I wanted to come back, play confident, play my game, not really change too much, and I think I tried to do that.

"There’s definitely some things I need to clean up and get better at. I had a couple turnovers in the third, a delay of game penalty. Our penalty kill was able to bail me out. A win’s a win, and I think all the guys in the room can agree that two points on the road in a divisional game is huge."

Nothing was as huge as getting Eichel back.

"It adds a big dimension to our team," Bylsma said. "Right from the beginning of the power play, there’s a different level of execution, a different level of speed.

"His ability to skate with the puck was dynamic for us. It makes us a harder team to play against in so many ways."



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