The Eichel Era

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Robin Lehner has looked sharp in his last five appearances. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – In the beginning of the season, back when the Sabres’ netminding was a huge question mark, coach Dan Bylsma said he scribbled some numbers on a board in goalie coach Andrew Allen’s office.

Countless components must mesh for success in the modern NHL, but if a coach doesn’t receive great goaltending in this low-scoring era, his team is essentially cooked.

Right now, Sabres goalie Robin Lehner has compiled stronger numbers – a 2.22 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage, …

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Johan Larsson has only two goals this season. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – Early in the Sabres’ 4-2 comeback win Wednesday in Montreal, for one of the few times this season, center Johan Larsson drove to the net with authority and narrowly missed scoring just his second goal.

With 8:14 left in the contest, the Swede skated to the crease again and was rewarded with his first score in 20 games, the winner against the Canadiens.

For Larsson, 23, it was his best performance in what has mostly been a colossally disappointing season.

“No …

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Ramsus Ristolainen has his friends in town. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – In his three NHL seasons, Rasmus Ristolainen’s close friends from his native Finland had never seen him play in person. Naturally, the defenseman wanted to make their first experience worthwhile, so he figured they should watch him in Montreal’s Bell Centre, one of the league’s best venues.

On Wednesday, five friends saw Ristolainen play in the Sabres’ 4-2 comeback win against the Canadiens. TV cameras caught the group clad in blue No. 55 Ristolainen jerseys and kept showing them …

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Josh Gorges (4) has been battling an upper-body injury. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – In reality, it’s a good problem. With Josh Gorges ready to play, the Sabres have eight healthy defensemen. Given the rough-and-tumble nature of the position, bodies are always at a premium, especially at this time of year.

Still, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma doesn’t like it much. He’s already had to mothball defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, who has played one game since Dec. 7. Now someone else must sit.

What will the Sabres do? Could a move be coming?

“I expect to see …

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Robin Lehner made 42 saves Friday. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – So far, three games into Robin Lehner’s return, the Swede has looked every bit like the No. 1 the Sabres envisioned when they dished a first-round pick for the unproven goalie.

After missing more than three months, Lehner has performed splendidly, stopping 85 of the 92 shots he has faced, including 42 on Friday in the Sabres’ ugly 3-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

At this point, 48 games and 29 defeats into another lost season, the 29th-ranked Sabres …

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Jamie McGinn (88) has been perhaps the Sabres' biggest surprise. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – Don’t let four impressive wins in the last six games fool you. The Sabres still rank last in the Atlantic Division and 29th in the 30-team NHL.

Yes, they’ve improved greatly this season. Still, they’re 11 points out of the Eastern Conference’s last wild card spot entering tonight’s home tilt against the Detroit Red Wings inside the First Niagara Center.

The Sabres are going to miss the playoffs for the fifth straight year, meaning they’ll almost certainly be sellers before …

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John Scott (right) talks with the Sabres' Nick Deslauriers on Dec. 4. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – There’s little middle ground when it comes to John Scott, the popular former Sabres tough guy whose election as an NHL All-Star captain has created an embarrassing episode for the league and left an eight-year veteran on an AHL roster in Newfoundland.

The 6-foot-8 Scott, one of the league’s last true enforcers, is a polarizing figure.

In Buffalo, where he played 90 games over two seasons, Scott is still a folk hero and adored by his ex-teammates. He joined the …

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Marcus Foligno has been a noticeable presence recently. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – For perhaps the first time all season, enigmatic forwards Marcus Foligno and Johan Larsson are playing well at the same time, meaning the Sabres have finally started receiving some notable contributions from their third line.

For the last four games, Foligno, Larsson and captain Brian Gionta have been one of the Sabres’ strongest trios, contributing some much-needed offense and grit while often facing the opposition’s best.

Larsson, the center, skated a season-high 17 minutes, 59 seconds in Tuesday’s 3-2 win …

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Jaromir Jagr played his first game in Buffalo more than 25 years ago. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – Late Monday, around 10:30 or 11:30 p.m., as many of his Florida Panthers teammates were probably turning in for the night, 43-year-old Jaromir Jagr was allegedly inside the First Niagara Center working out.

“Our cameras caught him,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said Tuesday prior to Jagr’s 87th career appearance against Buffalo, a 5-1 Panthers win in which the Czech scored his 736th NHL goal.

As Jagr has grown older, his legend has only increased. He’s leading the upstart Panthers in …

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Robin Lehner hasn't played since opening night. ©2016, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald
By Bill Hoppe     Olean Times Herald
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BUFFALO – Sabres goalie Robin Lehner and defenseman Mark Pysyk will begin AHL rehab assignments with the Rochester Americans later this week, coach Dan Bylsma said this morning.

The Amerks play three games in three days this weekend, so Lehner might start two of the three. Bylsma also said he would be with the team a week from Wednesday.

Lehner hasn’t played since suffering a high right ankle sprain Oct. 8, opening night. Pysyk, meanwhile, has missed 21 games. The two will …

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