WASHINGTON -- The Buffalo Sabres have no time to feel sorry for themselves with this schedule.
After absorbing quite the gut-punch Monday in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals in Verizon Center, the Sabres headed to the airport for the late-night flight home. Who was already snugly in their Buffalo beds getting ready to give them fits on the tail end of a brutal back-to-back?
NHL scoring leader Connor McDavid and the free-wheeling Edmonton Oilers. Yikes.
The Pacific Division co-leaders will hit the KeyBank Center ice Tuesday night looking for their NHL-high ninth road win of the season and a measure of revenge for the 6-2 pasting Buffalo put on them Oct. 16 in Rogers Place.
The Oilers will be facing a Buffalo team that might struggle mentally to pick up the pieces after Monday's game, which saw the Sabres come within 6 1/2 minutes of a regulation victory before two goals by Washington's Marcus Johansson ruined their night.
Johansson scored on a power play with 6:18 left, five seconds after Evander Kane was sent off for hooking, and then scored the game-winner at 2:38 of OT on a sizzling slapshot by the glove of Robin Lehner.
"We had a good second period and that's about it," said Lehner, who made 30 saves but fell to 1-5-3 in his last nine decisions. "We're up 2-1 going into the third and we don't want to sit back. Give them credit, they're a a good team but we don't want to sit back. They have speed. A lot of momentum. They got the power play goal. We had one good period."
The Sabres' injury woes, featuring the loss of four defensemen, have been the major talking point around the team the last couple days. The narrative switches for a day to the second career meeting between McDavid and Jack Eichel, the top two picks in the 2015 draft, but that is now shrouded by concern over Eichel's status.
Eichel was run into the boards by Washington defenseman Dmitry Orlov early in the second period and clearly was bothered by his high ankle sprain the rest of the way. He finished his second straight pointless game with one shot on goal, his explosiveness clearly hindered and his facial expressions on the bench often revealing signs of pain.
"I think it's the first time he's had any incident on the ice where he did feel the ankle," said coach Dan Bylsma. "Per usual with a high ankle sprain like that, he felt it, tweaked it, whatever the case is. It's fairly normal and then a return to feeling better after that."
Like Bylsma, Eichel insisted he felt better as the game went along. Even though the optics read otherwise.
"Hockey is a contact sport so I figure that's going to happen during the year and I've just got to play through it," Eichel said. I felt good. I just didn't play well enough."
Eichel isn't alone in that department. The Sabres got a first-period goal from Zemgus Girgensons on a breakaway and took a 2-1 lead on Kyle Okposo's team-high eighth of the year with 4:37 left in the second. But they were outshot, 16-9, in the third period and were unable to hold the lead in suffering their NHL-high sixth loss of the season past 60 minutes.
"We know we need two points. We've got to try to fight our way up in the standings," Okposo said. "You're going to have lulls in a season but we already had ours. We have to make sure we're pushing forward, doing everything we can to get two points. Yeah, getting a point is OK but we had a lead in the third. You've got to try to hold it and get two."
The Sabres had some chances, notably a power play with 3:12 left that fizzled into not much of anything and a 2-on-1 in overtime that Eichel could not connect on.
"As a team, I don't think we're happy with that game," Eichel said. "We did some good things in the second but had a power play with three minutes left and didn't do it. Overtime, a 2-on-1 and don't get a shot on net. It's unacceptable for myself. It's a quick turnaround now playing a really good hockey team. You get home, try to get some rest and try to look for two points tomorrow night."
McDavid leads the NHL in scoring this season with 34 points in 27 games on 11 goals and 23 assists. He was briefly taken off the ice by the league's concussion spotters during Sunday's 2-1 overtime loss to Minnesota but returned for the third period of that game.
In their only previous career meeting, McDavid scored the winning goal in overtime seconds after an Eichel miss in a 2-1 Edmonton win in Buffalo on March 1. McDavid missed last year's meeting in Edmonton due to his broken collarbone while Eichel did not play in the October game in the Oilers' new home.
With so many defensemen injured, the Sabres are left in the unenviable spot of riding top defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe. They played 29:51 and 28:52, respectively, on Monday. Cody Franson (20:45) also cracked 20 minutes on a defense corps that included Justin Falk, the NHL debut of Erik Bergdoerfer and the second game for Brendan Guhle.
Even with the defense taxed, Bylsma said he was putting McDavid & Co. out of his mind as the game went to overtime.
"I tried not to think about that and put 'er all out there tonight and win this one tonight," Bylsma said. "You kind of had it in the back of your mind throughout the game these are guys who are going to have to play tomorrow night and manage their minutes. But I don't think in the case of the game situation you can think about it or do that very much."