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Jack Eichel has gotten off to a scorching start. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – It was Sunday morning, more than two days before center Jack Eichel finally returned from his 21-game absence, when coach Dan Bylsma first noticed a change in his Sabres, owners of the NHL’s worst offense.

Thanks to Eichel’s presence in practice, Bylsma said he saw “confidence and an excitement brewing about us being able to score goals and how we need to play.”

Never mind the Sabres had lost eight of their last 10 games at that point. Never mind …

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Jack Eichel has missed 21 games. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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OTTAWA – The smiles told the story. They adorned the faces of Jack Eichel’s Buffalo Sabres teammates and his coach, Dan Bylsma, who looked relieved his young star could make his season debut tonight against the Senators.

Eichel, meanwhile, tried to keep his emotions in check following a 50-minute practice Monday inside KeyBank Center. The second-year center said he has passed every hurdle – “No real restrictions,” he said – in his recovery from a high left ankle sprain he sustained …

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Robin Lehner (40) has enjoyed a strong season. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
1

BUFFALO – It’s easy to forget now, with Robin Lehner and Anders Nilsson tending some of the NHL’s best goal, but six weeks ago, the Swedes were two of the Sabres’ biggest question marks.

Lehner, 25, was coming off a season in which a high ankle sprain dogged him and limited his action. Meanwhile, Nilsson, 26, had enjoyed little sustained success as a backup goalie for three other teams.

Right now, they’re quietly one of the league’s best duos entering this afternoon’s …

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The Sabres have missed Jack Eichel. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – A week ago, Sabres center Jack Eichel said he circled a date on his calendar he would like to return from the high left ankle sprain that has sidelined him six weeks.

“But that’s pretty fragile and can change pretty quickly,” Eichel told a throng of reporters after skating with his teammates this morning, his first session since injuring his ankle Oct. 12, the day before the season opener.

Eichel, of course, wouldn’t reveal the date he has in mind. …

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Johan Larsson has thrived in a checking role. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – The scouting report on Johan Larsson, the tenacious center Sabres coach Dan Bylsma often charges with shadowing the opposition’s top forwards, is short and straightforward.

“He’s grumpy, miserable, hard guy to play against,” Bylsma said Tuesday after the Sabres prepared for tonight’s tilt against the Detroit Red Wings at KeyBank Center.

Wait, the quiet Larsson, an affable, well-liked teammate known as “Larry,” is grumpy? How often does that word appear in scouting reports?

“They call him ‘Grumpy Larry’ for a reason,” …

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Kyle Okposo beats Calgary goalie Brian Elliott for his second-period goal Tuesday. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – For almost 30 minutes Monday, the Sabres’ 4-2 win against the Calgary Flames looked like almost every other home game this trying season.

The Sabres, having scored two or fewer goals in 10 straight games, showed why they have the NHL’s worst offense. The crowd of 17,526 fans inside KeyBank Center, meanwhile, barely made a peep.

To that point, the biggest roar of the night was reserved for Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who was briefly shown on the video …

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Anders Nilsson makes a save in the second period on Saturday. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – In just five games with the Sabres, goalie Anders Nilsson has already earned the kind of confidence from his coach that often takes years to develop.

Instead of using No. 1 goalie Robin Lehner against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Dan Bylsma tabbed Nilsson, his backup, to play against the defending Stanley Cup champions on Saturday inside KeyBank Center, a tilt the Sabres won 2-1 in a shootout.

The Swede has impressed this season, so Bylsma figured with a busy schedule and …

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Anders Nilsson has looked impressive this season. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – Toward the end of the morning skate, backup goalie Anders Nilsson, not Robin Lehner, started skating to the Sabres bench.

Would Sabres coach Dan Bylsma really start his backup against the Pittsburgh Penguins over Lehner, his starter who has played 13 of the first 17 games?

After fiddling with his sticks at the bench for a few moments – it almost seemed like Nilsson was teasing everyone trying to see if he would leave first – he eventually left the …

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Kyle Okposo is one of the few Sabres producing. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
1

BUFFALO – With a slew of established, high-priced forwards and two talented youngsters poised to break out following terrific rookie seasons, the days of the Sabres owning one of the NHL’s worst offenses appeared to be over.

But 15 games into another tough season, the Sabres have scored only 29 goals, a paltry 1.93 a contest, the league’s worst figure entering tonight’s road tilt against the St. Louis Blues.

The Sabres have scored two or fewer goals in seven consecutive games. No …

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Nick Baptiste played his first NHL game in Ottawa on Saturday. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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OTTAWA – As a native of nearby Barrhaven, about a 10-minute drive from the Canadian Tire Centre, Buffalo Sabres rookie Nick Baptiste had quite the cheering section for his sixth NHL game.

“There’s going to be a lot of people here tonight – a lot of family, friends, teachers, people in the area,” Baptiste said prior to Saturday’s 2-1 comeback win against the Senators, his first NHL appearance here. “My brother’s whole hockey team is coming. There’s going to be quite …

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