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In Eichel and Skinner, Sabres adding double dose of talent to All-Star Game

SAN JOSE  — Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner will be in Silicon Valley making their second career appearances in the NHL All-Star Game Saturday night, and their first as teammates. And in an up-and-down season for their team, it's another small sign of the Buffalo Sabres having more impact on the NHL scene.

With Eichel and Skinner in the game, the Sabres will have more than one representative for the first time since 2007 in Dallas. That year, goaltender Ryan Miller, forward Daniel Briere, defenseman Brian Campbell and coach Lindy Ruff represented the Presidents' Trophy-bound Sabres in a game thaw saw the West beat the East, 12-9. Briere was the MVP after collecting a goal and four assists.

Eichel, who leads the Sabres with 52 points, made his All-Star debut last year in Tampa, in his third season in the league. Skinner played in 2011 in his home rink in Raleigh, N.C. while representing the Carolina Hurricanes as a rookie. At 18, Skinner became the youngest player at the time to ever play in an All-Star Game. Skinner, who has a team-high 30 goals, earned his slot in this game as the Atlantic Division winner of the "Last Men In" vote.

"You're not going to have a good season unless your teammates are playing well. That's the cool part," Skinner said when the vote was announced Jan. 11 on the day he returned to Carolina. "My family was thinking about it more than me. It just shows the passion and how much the fans love the Sabres. It's a pretty cool feeling."

The SAP Center, commonly referred to as the "Shark Tank," will be the host for the weekend's marquee events. It last hosted the game in 1997.

The All-Star Skills competition begins Friday night at 9:30 Eastern on NBCSN, with players competing in six disciplines: fastest skater, premier passer, save streak (for goalies in shootouts), puck control, hardest shots and accuracy shooting.

The game itself, the fourth year of a 3-on-3 tournament format, airs Saturday night at 8 Eastern on NBC. The first game, matching stars from the Central and Pacific Division, starts at 8:15. The Sabres' stars will hit the ice for the Atlantic-Metropolitan semifinal at 9:15. The two winning sides play the championship game at 10:15, with the winning team of 11 players splitting a $1 million prize.

Last year in Tampa, the Pacific beat the Atlantic, 5-2, to take the championship. Eichel and Toronto's Auston Matthews contributed perhaps the signature moment of the day with their "good goal" point, mimicking a referee during the Atlantic's semifinal victory over the Metropolitan. It came a few seconds after an Erik Karlsson goal for the Atlantic was wiped out after an offside challenge. Vancouver rookie Brock Boeser was the day's MVP.

Mike Harrington: Eichel and Matthews make their point

Tampa Bay's Jon Cooper will coach the Atlantic and you would imagine he would keep Eichel and Matthews together like he did in last year's game, and perhaps give Skinner a shot with them as well. Florida's Aleksander Barkov, who is not in this year's game, was their partner in Tampa.

A busy three-day stretch for the All-Star players and coaches opens Thursday night when they face the cameras and notebooks during the league's annual All-Star Media Day. It will be held at City National Civic Auditorium, one of the city's major icons.

The Spanish California Mission style building dates to 1933 and has been the site of famous concerts, including one by Barbra Streisand during her opening concert tour in 1963, sporting events like college basketball games and boxing matches featuring Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis, and a 1970 speech by Richard Nixon that denounced anti-war protestors outside and saw the President dodge eggs and other projectiles tossed at his motorcade as it pulled away.

It will be the first chance the media has to get the thoughts of Edmonton captain Connor McDavid on the firing of General Manager Peter Chiarelli, which took place late Tuesday night.

City National Civic Auditorium, host of All-Star Media Day on Thursday (Mike Harrington/Buffalo News).

The only player who has begged off the game for rest is Washington captain Alex Ovechkin. He opted to play Wednesday night in Toronto in the Capitals' final game before the break and will take his NHL-mandated one-game suspension when the Caps host Calgary after the break and their bye week on Feb. 1.

Commissioner Gary Bettman will hold his annual All-Star briefing Friday afternoon and that will be followed by another press event where the league will hold what's being called its "Innovation Spotlight" to discuss advances in items like player tracking.

Cooper is joined as a coach by Washington's Todd Reirden, Winnipeg's Paul Maurice and Calgary's Bill Peters. The only ex-Sabre in the game is St. Louis center Ryan O'Reilly, who represented Buffalo in Nashville in 2016. South Buffalo's Patrick Kane of Chicago is O'Reilly's Central teammate and will be making his eighth appearance, most of any player.

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