How the Buffalo Sabres will fare without Jack Eichel isn't a question relating to only the team's play on the ice.
It also is a question for its TV ratings, which already are down significantly from a year ago in this disappointing season.
Before Buffalo's surprising 5-3 home win Tuesday over the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, the Sabres were averaging a 5.2 rating for the season, down about 16 percent from the 6.2 rating for the entire 2016-17 season.
Normally, you would think TV ratings without Eichel would tank since he is the most dynamic player on the team. But there always is a chance viewers will be as interested in how some of the players - like Sam Reinhart, for instance - and the team performs without its All-Star as it did with him.
The 5.2 average rating is still very strong for any National Hockey League team. Buffalo usually is near the top of the ratings, though bigger market teams have more viewers since a rating point in their markets is equal to thousands of more viewers.
The first TV test since Eichel was injured against Colorado Sunday had a 3.8 rating, which was the lowest rating in February. Tuesday's surprising win in the second test had a 5.0 rating on MSG, which indicates fans will be interested if the players perform well.
Recent ratings with Eichel playing were generally in the 4s. However, a Feb. 6 loss to Anaheim and former Sabre goaltender Ryan Miller had a 6.0 rating, which was the highest-rated game since Dec. 14.
The season started with high hopes and a 10.9 rating for the season-opening loss to Montreal.
The highest-rated game was the Winter Classic against the New York Rangers, which had a 12.3 rating on New Year's Day on Channel 2. The other top-rated games on the season were against Detroit (7.2) on Oct. 24, Pittsburgh (7.5) on Nov. 14 and Edmonton (7.0) on Nov. 24.
The season's lowest-rated game was a 1.1 for the game with Philadelphia that was played on the same January afternoon that the Buffalo Bills played their first playoff game in 18 years, a 10-3 loss to Jacksonville.
Story topics: TV ratings