The Sabres began life without Jack Eichel

February 11, 2018

Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) - We all know that Jack Eichel isn’t going to be playing for a while, so how is Phil Housley going to handle it?

His lines for Sunday's game had to change. Evan Rodrigues moved back to center. He stayed with Sam Reinhart, but Scott Wilson is now the left winger.

Jason Pominville got to wear Eichel’s “A” and he went up to the right wing with Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane.

Zemgus Girgensons missed Saturday’s game due to illness and was ready to play Sunday and was on the left wing with Johan Larsson and Kyle Okposo.

Jacob Josefson centered Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Nolan.

The Rodrigues line was by far the best. In the first period, it was the only line that got into the offensive zone and got a forecheck going. Sam Reinhart led the charge getting in deep more than once. He also got back quickly and turned a 3-on-2 into a 3-on-3.

The line needed to give a response after Nate Beaulieu and Rasmus Ristolainen gave up a horrible goal just 43 seconds into the game. Two Avalanche players got in behind them.

Ristolainen had maybe the worst game of his career and after giving the puck away at 1:07 of the second for the third Colorado goal. He didn’t get another 5-on-5 shift in the second period. He also started the third not playing 5-on-5. He did get on for the penalty kill and Tyson Jost scored. That was the fourth goal Ristolainen was on for in the game.

He finally got a 5-on-5 shift with Marco Scandella in the third period, but the puck wound up in the back of the net for the fifth time at 7:03. Ristolainen finally got on the right side of things when he assisted on O'Reilly's 5-on-3 power play goal. He was also on the ice when the Sabres scored 6-on-5 after pulling Robin Lehner.

After the game Ristolainen knows he's going to lose ice-time when he plays that poorly. He still got in 23:49 of play, but only 12 of those minutes was at even strength. Phil Housley on Ristolainen's struggle, "I think it could be preparation, confidence...he's got to refocus on getting his game back"

The Rodrigues line was solid in the second period too. Rodrigues used his speed to fly by Tyson Barrie. He couldn’t score and Wilson had an open net on the rebound, but hit the side of the net.

In the absence of Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly said he needed to do more and he delivered. O’Reilly had two shorthanded assists with the first one being a great play. O’Reilly blew past Sam Girard and forced Bernier to drag his left pad. Pouliot read the play perfectly and swooped in for the open net tap in.

Kane took Eichel's place on the power play, but they really missed Eichel there. Eichel is the guy that backs off the defense and gains the zone. The Sabres had a lot of trouble doing that. O'Reilly finally broke through on the 5-on-3.

Kane had a great chance to tie the game on a 2-on-1, but just missed Pominville for an open tap in.

To open the third, Rodrigues made a great pass from behind the net to Wilson streaking in, but he hit the side of the net again.

From start to finish and in the absence of Eichel, this line was Buffalo’s best by far. They created throughout the game which they’ll need with Eichel on the shelf.