OTTAWA – Five years ago, Buffalo Sabres winger Evander Kane enjoyed the best start of his eight-year career, scoring 18 times in his first 36 games for the Winnipeg Jets, a torrid 41-goal pace over a full season.
Then, in the midst of his career year, Kane suddenly endured an 11-game goal drought.
“Maybe I could’ve scored 40 if I didn’t have that slump,” Kane said to Tuesday prior to recording an assist in the Sabres’ 5-4 win against the Senators inside the Canadian Tire Center.
Kane, however, rebounded nicely, finishing with 30 goals in 74 games.
On Tuesday, Kane’s current goalless stretch hit 11 games. But unlike 2011-12, he can’t reach back a few weeks to grab some confidence. He hasn’t scored yet this season.
“You look around the league, and it happens to everybody,” Kane, who scored 20 goals last season, said of his slump. “You try for it not to happen, but it usually does.”
Kane, 25, has experienced a rough two months. He missed 11 games after cracking four ribs when he barreled into the end boards opening night.
Incredibly, the Sabres have won only three games with Kane in the lineup. So far, he has only three assists and a team-worst minus-5 rating.
There are positive signs, though, Kane could be ready to bust out. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma put him back on the left wing Tuesday beside center Jack Eichel, who returned after a high left ankle sprain sidelined him 21 games, and Sam Reinhart.
“It’s nice to have my center back,” Kane said.
The trio quickly meshed late last season, becoming the Sabres’ first legitimate No. 1 scoring line in years.
“We established a chemistry,” Kane said. “Obviously, the more you play with one another, the better it is.”
The three are also neighbors, so they “hang out lots,” Kane said.
“We just complement each other well,” Eichel said. “We have pretty good chemistry off the ice. I think it usually translates. It did last year.
“Evander brings a lot with his speed. He’s got that straight ahead game where he finishes a lot of checks and gets a lot of pucks for us. I think Sam and myself kind of feed off each other a little bit.”
Kane has recently showcased his greatest asset, speed, consistently for the first time this season. That speed, Bylsma said, “turns into physicality when you can get on pucks, when you can get to pucks.”
“The last four games you’ve seen him have that dimension to his game,” Bylsma said. “(He) is skating better, has that speed, has that jump. I think it’s just going to translate into him getting scoring opportunities.”
Sabres rookie William Carrier earned a promotion Tuesday, skating on the left wing beside center Ryan O’Reilly and Kyle Okposo.
Meanwhile, Matt Moulson, who has a team-high seven goals, skated on the right wing beside center Derek Grant and Zemgus Girgensons, the fourth line. Grant and Girgensons have combined for one goal in 42 games.
Tuesday was Carrier’s 12th NHL game.
“Will’s been able to add speed and physicality to whoever he’s played with,” Bylsma said. “I think that line with Ryan and Kyle will benefit from having Will’s speed, having his forecheck, having his aggressiveness on the wing. He’s been our best player for the last two days.
Bylsma added: “He’s demanded more spots on our team, and he’s done it with his play, done it with his physicality, done it with his energy level. That’s what you want from any player getting called up.”
Notes: Bylsma moved defenseman Jake McCabe up to the top pairing beside Rasmus Ristolainen and switched Josh Gorges to McCabe’s spot beside Cody Franson. … The Sabres have no healthy extra players. … Sabres goalie Robin Lehner on facing the Senators, his team from 2010 to 2015: “It’s starting to become another game.”