Eichel doing his part to make Sabres-Maple Leafs a rivalry


For a rivalry to transcend just a few relatives from the same region squabbling, say, during the holidays, it has to mean something. One, if not both, of the teams have to have a lot on the line, more often than not.

So, the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs don’t really have much of a rivalry right now. Generally, both teams’ greatest rivals lately have, frankly, been themselves.

But like with most things Sabres-related, you’d be foolish to blame Jack Eichel.

Considering Toronto’s relative proximity to Buffalo, a lot of Sabres home games get invaded by buds of the Buds, and Eichel doesn’t seem to be one of those players who will just pretend to be oblivious. He seems to take an extra pleasure in sticking it to those who barge in to Buffalo, and continued that tradition during the Sabres’ 6-4 win against the Maple Leafs on Black Friday.

As you can see in the highlights above, Jack Eichel had himself a game, scoring two goals and one assist. It was an all-around effort, with Eichel firing eight shots on goal, enjoying a +4 rating, logging more than 21 minutes of ice time, and even winning 68 percent of his faceoffs.

It’s tough to blame people for praising Eichel’s efforts when he combines the flashy box score-stuffing stats with hustle plays.

And, again, Eichel admits that seeing so many Maple Leafs fans in the building only fuels his fire.

“We’d obviously like to see more Buffalo fans in the crowd but like you said, it’s a little extra motivation,” Eichel said, according to Mike Harrington of the Buffalo News.

The greatest moment of Eichel revving up this not-quite-there-yet rivalry came in March 2017, when he clearly trolled some Leafs fans after he scored his second goal of that game, a contest Buffalo won 5-2. You can see Eichel taunting those bummed out Maple Leafs fans most clearly at the end of the clip (around the one-minute mark):

Sure, you can say that some of it is a coincidence. Eichel is downright lighting it up most nights, as this performance boosted Eichel to an impressive 16 goals and 34 points in just 26 games, putting him far ahead of any other Sabres player.

But coincidence or not, Eichel really has been at his best against Toronto. Sabres PR points out that Eichel has scored a whopping 11 goals in just 14 games against the Maple Leafs during his career, Eichel’s best output versus any opponent.

If it’s too much to ask to surround Eichel with better teammates, maybe the trick should be to convince Sabres fans to wear the opposing teams’ sweaters during home games? Just throwing it out there.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Senators goaltender Cam Talbot out 5-7 weeks with injury

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OTTAWA, Ontario — Ottawa Senators goaltender Cam Talbot is expected to be out five to seven weeks with what the team called an upper-body injury.

The Senators initially called Talbot day to day with what they hoped was a minor injury. Instead he’s now expected to miss at least the first month of the NHL season.

Ottawa claimed goalie Magnus Hellberg off waivers from the Seattle Kraken upon announcing Talbot’s expected absence. Hellberg, who played for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics could split time with countryman Anton Forsberg while Talbot is out.

The Senators acquired Talbot from Minnesota during the offseason to make him their starter after the Wild opted against bringing him back along with Marc-Andre Fleury. Talbot, 35, had a 2.76 goals-against average and .911 save percentage this season.

Losing Talbot is a blow to the Senators, who also acquired winger Alex DeBrincat from Chicago and signed longtime Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux as part of a move toward contending and ending their playoff drought.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.