It was the first time all season that Kyle Okposo and Jack Eichel played together.
And it looked pretty darn good.
The pair combined for six points, including connecting for two goals in an explosive second period for the Buffalo Sabres in their 6-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings Tuesday in KeyBank Center.
Perhaps a case of instant chemistry?
"Well I don’t know about instant because the first period wasn’t very good," Okposo said. "I didn’t have a lot of jump tonight but I thought we did a pretty good job reading off each other."
Okposo didn't have a lot of jump after missing Monday's practice with illness. That meant he didn't get a practice with Eichel, but after 20 minutes that didn't seem to matter.
"Obviously he was a little bit sick yesterday so I didn’t get the chance to practice with him," Eichel said, "but he’s such an easy player to play with. He understands the game so well. I think we were able to feed off each other a bit and understand where and what we were trying to do."
The pair played with both Matt Moulson and Evander Kane on what proved to the be the Sabres most productive line of the night.
It started in the second period. Trailing, 2-1, the line of Okposo-Eichel-Moulson did a good job on the forecheck. Okposo had the puck along the boards and passed it to Eichel, who took the puck and skated back toward the blue line. Okposo went behind the net and circled back in front, ready to take a pass from Eichel when the wrist shot instead beat Kings' goaltender Peter Budaj.
"Yeah, you know just coming up the halfwall there, a good cycle by," Okposo "and a quick switch," Eichel said. "I saw one of our guys in front of the net." That would have been Okposo. "Kind of a one-on-one situation. I was just trying to put it there. I hadn’t gotten one in a while so I’m fortunate it squeaks by him."
On Eichel's second goal, it was Okposo who had the puck at the blue line, skated with it until Eichel got open then let the kid do his thing, curling to the center of the ice and letting go an accurate shot that gave the Sabres a 4-2 lead and all the momentum.
"He’s a guy that he can create his own opportunities," Okposo said of Eichel. "Sometimes you just have to try and give him a little bit of space and he’s going to take it. That’s what he did tonight."
Eichel tried to return the favor to Okposo in the third, but Okposo missed the pass. Kane, however, drove the net, collected the puck and gave the Sabres a late 5-3 lead and breathing room.
It was Kane's fourth goal in his last five games in KeyBank Center while Moulson had assists on both of Eichel's goals.
"I think Matt’s a great complement or Evander," Eichel said. "Those guys go to the net pretty hard and understand the game. The first goal really doesn’t happen if" Moulson "doesn’t get in on the forecheck and make a great a play. Credit to him and a lot of guys stepped up tonight. It’s a really good hockey team over there that we’re able to beat at home so good effort by us."
Eichel's three-point game is the second highest of his career. Eichel's career best was a four-point game (two goals, two assists) on Dec. 26, 2015 at Boston.
Eichel now has 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in his last 12 games dating back to last season, including four multi-point efforts in his last 10 games. And what does the Eichel factor mean? Consider that the Sabres are 28-14-4 when Eichel records a point and 11-3-1 when he has at least two.
Zach Bogosian is nearing a return. The Buffalo defenseman has been out since suffering a sprained medial collateral ligament in his knee Nov. 1. He took part in the morning skate, his first time on the ice with teammates since the injury.
“It felt good,” Bogosian said. “I’ve missed a lot of time. It gets pretty boring when you’re not with the same schedule as the team, but it felt nice to be out there.
“I don’t have a game scheduled or penciled in right now. I’m just kind of taking it a day at a time, talk to Dan and the training staff and see if we can come up with a plan.”
Speaking of Bogosian, he will be behind the counter at The Healthy Scratch at HarborCenter from 4:30-6 p.m. on Thursday to make his custom “BOGO Bunch Juice.” Proceeds from sale of the juice will benefit the BOGO Bunch Foundation.
Also on hand will be Sabres forward Tyler Ennis. Fans can meet Bogosian and Ennis, sample the juice and purchase discounted tickets to the BOGO Bunch’s Casino for Cause fundraiser on Jan. 7.
The Buffalo Jr. Sabres Youth Hockey Association along with coaches from the Academy of Hockey will present Roswell Park Cancer Institute with a check for $23,000 on Wednesday. The presentation will come before the Jr. Sabres 6:30 p.m. faceoff against the Toronto Jr. Canadiens in HarborCenter. The money was raised by the organization over the summer through operation of the 50-50 raffle at Darien Lake’s summer concert series.