By Mark Ludwiczak, The Sports Xchange
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Tyler Ennis’ return to the ice could not have gone any better for the Buffalo Sabres.
Playing for the first time since Nov. 7, the speedy center scored 19 seconds into Monday’s game to lead the Sabres to a 4-1 win over the Dallas Stars. Ennis missed the previous two months after undergoing groin surgery.
“Yeah, that’s how I planned it, so that was nice,” Ennis deadpanned after the game. “That was a good feeling when that went in.”
On the opening goal, Ennis took advantage of a Stars giveaway by defenseman John Klingberg and placed a shot into the top corner of the net for his second goal of the year.
“I was really happy not only to get our team going, but just for his sake,” said Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe. “He’s missed that many games and he’s a really big piece to our team. He brings so much to the table when he’s in our lineup so to see him get that goal for his confidence and our team confidence, you couldn’t script it any better.”
The Sabres didn’t look back after their fast start. Jack Eichel had two goals and McCabe also scored for the Sabres (17-17-9), who snapped a two-game losing streak. Robin Lehner made 31 saves.
“We knew that the way they play, they’re bound to turn over the puck if we forecheck correctly like we did,” McCabe said. “Ennis’ first goal the first shift, we put pressure on them and they turned the puck over and just like that it’s in the net so we did that all night.”
McCabe doubled Buffalo’s lead with 7:26 remaining in the first off another Stars giveaway. Stars captain Jamie Benn’s poor clearance found a wide open McCabe in the middle of the slot, and McCabe’s hard shot gave him his first goal of the year.
After a Dallas score late in the first period, Eichel made it a two-goal lead again 7:07 into the second with a power-play goal. After the Stars were given a penalty for too many men on the ice, Sabres center Sam Reinhart had two quick chances from close range. Reinhart then got the puck to Eichel on his left, and Eichel had an easy tap-in for his ninth goal of the year. Reinhart picked up his 13th point in his last 13 games.
Eichel added an empty-net goal with 9.3 seconds remaining.
Radek Faska scored for the Stars (18-19-8), who were noticeably frustrated following another disappointing effort. Kari Lehtonen made 25 saves.
Just before the end of the second period, Benn smashed his stick along the ice and proceeded to break two more sticks over his knee after reaching the bench.
Benn was blunt when asked to assess his recent play after the game.
“Pretty bad — that’s taking it easy on myself too,” Benn said. “I wish I could say how I really feel but it’s probably not good for TV. I think it’s contagious and it runs through the team so I definitely need to do a better job with body language and definitely my play on the ice.”
Dallas head coach Lindy Ruff echoed Benn’s thoughts.
“I do (have concern),” Ruff said. “He’s struggled for a period of time. Obviously his struggles out there were easy to see. … It’s been a tough year for him. It almost seemed every time he had the puck something bad happened.”
Dallas’ lone goal came with 4:46 remaining in the first on a deflection in front of the net by Faska.
The Stars appeared to even the score 1:38 into the second period but Stephen Johns’ goal was disallowed after right winger Patrick Eaves was ruled offside following a coach’s challenge by the Sabres.
“A difficult loss for us tonight but put it behind us,” said Stars winger Patrick Sharp. “No one’s going to feel sorry for us. We’ve got to dig ourselves out of this whole and play better hockey.”