The Buffalo Sabres played the Washington Capitals close last night, giving themselves a chance to beat one of the best teams in the NHL — on the road to boot.
Though the Caps eventually won in overtime, it was another encouraging performance by the Sabres, who’ve been a much better side since Jack Eichel returned to the lineup.
Buffalo (9-10-6) has gone 2-1-1 in the four games Eichel has played. Tonight, another big test, as Connor McDavid and the Oilers pay a visit to KeyBank Center.
“We have to try and fight our way up the standings,” Sabres winger Kyle Okposo told reporters last night. “You might have some lulls in the season, but we already had ours. We have to make sure we’re pushing forward and doing everything we can to get two points. Getting a point is OK, but we had the lead in the third.”
Eichel will indeed play tonight. He confirmed that this morning, after there was concern he’d tweaked his ankle against the Capitals.
“I’m fine. I’m good,” Eichel said, per the Buffalo News. “Going through an injury like this, you know it’s going to come back and bother you at times, but it’s fine now.”
With Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly, the Sabres have a formidable one-two punch down the middle. When Eichel was out with his ankle injury, it was a serious challenge to fill his spot, and the Sabres just couldn’t manage it very well.
Now, with Eichel back, it’s about finding that belief — a belief that the Sabres are good enough to compete, that they don’t need to go into a shell as soon as they get the lead.
That’s what seemed to happen last night in Washington, where the Caps outshot the Sabres, 16-9, in the third period and Marcus Johansson‘s goal at 13:42 sent the game to sudden death.
“I mean give them credit, they’re a good team, but I think we’re starting to sit back and they have speed, you know?” said goalie Robin Lehner. “I think we see that we can play. We’ve just got to stop changing, changing how we play.”