Battered Sabres aren't wallowing in self-pity

Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY Sports

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Buffalo Sabres held a practice Friday and nobody got hurt.

So there’s that.

Is there a dark cloud hanging over this franchise? How else is there to explain two-thirds of the team’s top line already gone, after young franchise player Jack Eichel went down in practice on Wednesday and star winger Evander Kane ended up in the hospital on Thursday night with cracked ribs after a violent collision in the end boards during the team’s season-opening loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

That added to previous injuries during camp to the likes of Dmitry Kulikov and Kyle Okposo, who both also missed the season opener.

"Yeah it’s been pretty crazy,’’ Eichel told reporters inside the Sabres dressing room on Friday, his left ankle resting on a scooter. "It’s unfortunate, but injuries are part of the game. We play a fast game. We can’t dwell on guys that are out. I know the guys in the room aren’t doing that, the coaching staff sure isn’t doing that. I know these guys will take care of business while we get healthy.’’

Eichel is slated to be out six to eight weeks while coach Dan Bylsma said Friday that the team was looking at "weeks’’ for Kane.

Teams deal with injuries all the time in the NHL, but losing two star players in back-to-back days right at the start of a season -- that’s a tough psychological blow for this young Sabres team.

"For me and this team, it’s the first time really having (that kind of adversity) at the start of the season,’’ Bylsma said. "It does feel different. You want to be together as a team; you want your best team on the ice. You have the unfortunate scenario where it’s not the case at the start of the season.

"It does feel a little bit different when you start the season and you’re looking at having a couple of real good players out of the lineup.’’

The Sabres head out Saturday morning for a four-game road trip with stops in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and Philadelphia. Talk about an early-season test with Eichel and Kane out. But Bylsma views the trip as a potential positive.

"We looked at the schedule when we got it, and the home game here against Montreal then going on the road to Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver as a good opportunity for this group and this team,’’ Bylsma said. "We still think that’s the case, regardless of our situation. It’s something we’re looking forward to. … It’s a great chance for us to build and show what we can be.’’

At least Okposo, who practiced Friday, appears on the mend after getting injured in camp and ready to go for Sunday’s game at Edmonton. He’s not there to try and replace Eichel and Kane in one fell swoop, however.

"I’m just going to try to come in and play my game and help the guys out in any way I can,’’ said Okposo, one of Buffalo’s big offseason acquisitions. "Just not try to do too much. Obviously Jack is a special player, to have him go down obviously hurts.

"And with Evander going down last night, it’s a tough blow again. But, hey, teams deal with injuries all year. Unfortunately for us they’re coming at the beginning part of the year. But if we have to grow up as a team. We have to find a way to put points in the bank in October.’’

What makes this even harder to digest for the Sabres, however, is the juxtaposition between their situation and what transpired for the rival Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night, when Auston Matthews began his NHL career with a magical, four-goal opening statement.

The Leafs and Sabres, two teams a two-hour drive away from each other, will be compared to each other for a long time, given that their rebuilds are on similar timelines, their dual pursuits of Mike Babcock as head coach (before he ended up in Toronto) adding more spice to the rivalry. But the idea that each club is being built around a young American stud, in Eichel or Matthews, is why it’s going to be so fascinating to watch each grow.

But it also must add another emotional shot to the gut for the Sabres and their loyal fans, that they see their rivals just 100 miles down the road already celebrating the glorious start to the Matthews era.

Young Sabres star Sam Reinhart, however, wasn’t buying any of that theory on Friday. He’s not concerned about what’s going on in Toronto.

"I think you’re putting more into it than we are,’’ Reinhart said. "In regard to the performance by Matthews, for sure I was watching, for sure I was in awe of it. It was pretty amazing. But in the sense of where we are as a team, we’re focused on our rebuild. I’m not focused on theirs at all.’’