BUFFALO – Late in the morning skate, Sabres goalie Robin Lehner, who’s nursing a sore hip and questionable to even dress for tonight’s game, left the ice first.
Did it mean he was ready to play? The first goalie off almost always starts.
No. The Sabres still aren’t sure if Lehner will back up goalie Anders Nilsson tonight against the New York Rangers.
“It feels 90 percent, it’s a little stiff still,” Lehner said inside KeyBank Center. “But, yeah, it feels good.”
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said: “Robin did OK, felt OK on the ice, and that’s a good sign.”
The Swede could play Saturday afternoon against the Boston Bruins, Bylsma said.
Lehner said he pulled his hip on the Senators’ first goal early in Tuesday’s 5-4 win in Ottawa. He felt OK after the goal, but he didn’t have any work for a few minutes. When he faced some action and went to play the puck, he felt it.
If Lehner can’t dress, the Sabres would likely recall Linus Ullmark.
Update: The Sabres have recalled Ullmark.
Sabres center Jack Eichel, meanwhile, will make his home debut after a high left ankle sprain sidelined him 21 games. The second-year star returned Tuesday, recording a goal and an assist early.
Fans love Eichel, who can electrify a building. The KeyBank Center, of course, has often been quiet this season.
“Try to put on a good show for them,” Eichel said.
The Sabres have the league’s worst offense and just a 3-4-3 home record. But how badly have they performed offensively at home? They’ve scored only 14 goals, just five coming five-on-five.
Bylsma knows the Sabres must “do something to get (fans) into the game.”
“Jack’s one of those guys gets everybody off their feet when he grabs the puck, touches the puck,” he said. “That was the case last year. A lot of the excitement in the building came from that anticipation of Jack having the puck and making a play, his speed and dynamic with the puck. We need to have Jack do that to get our fans in the game tonight.”
Eichel played 17 minutes, eight seconds Tuesday, about two minutes less than he averaged last year.
“I had hoped between 16 and 18 minutes, and that’s where we got him,” Bylsma said. “He’s felt pretty good. He’s claimed he didn’t feel anything in the game at all the last game, which would be remarkable from the injury he’s coming back from.”
Bylsma added: “That’s kind of monitoring where he’s at conditioning-wise and game shape-wise. I’d love to see that keep growing as we move along.”
Even if the Sabres can’t score, the crowd might see some goals. The 16-7-1 Rangers have already scored a league-high 88 goals.
Incredibly, that’s 45 more goals than the Sabres have scored!
Nilsson is 1-1 with a 4.03 goals-against average and an .852 save percentage against the Rangers in his career.