BUFFALO – If the Sabres were participating in the playoffs right now, then, yes, Ryan O’Reilly would be playing. But the center wants to be smart handling his recovery from an oblique injury.
That means O’Reilly, who skated with his teammates this morning, will miss his fifth straight game tonight against the Calgary Flames.
“If it was the playoffs, it would be a different situation,” a sweaty O’Reilly said this morning after leaving the KeyBank Center ice long after his teammates. “There’s a lot of hockey left.”
The Sabres also host Detroit on Wednesday, a game O’Reilly said is “doable.” The extra rest will help the team’s top center.
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said O’Reilly will likely return later this week.
“It’s a high-area injury, and he’ll use it every second he’s on the ice,” Bylsma said. “He’s still feeling a bit of – I won’t use the word ‘pain’ – but still feeling it a little bit. He wanted and would’ve played two days ago.”
In other news, goalie Robin Lehner will start tonight after backup Anders Nilsson dazzled throughout Saturday’s 2-1 shootout win against Pittsburgh, making 46 saves. The effort helped the Sabres end a six-game losing streak.
Did the Bylsma consider giving Nilsson another start tonight?
“I think it was a consideration,” he said.
Bylsma said Nilsson will start again later this week. The Sabres play Friday in Washington after Wednesday’s game.
“I think he earned another start with his performance last game,” Bylsma said.
In injury news, Bylsma said center Jack Eichel, out since sustaining a high left ankle sprain Oct. 12, has skated seven times and is progressing. Bylsma said Eichel “ramped up” his skating to a “third level.”
How many levels are there for Eichel?
“There’s about seven,” Bylsma said.
The next step for Eichel is joining team practices, Bylsma said.
The Sabres have struggled scoring goals without Eichel and O’Reilly. They have scored two in fewer in 10 straight games. They finally gutted out a tight win Saturday. They need to replicate that style again tonight, Bylsma said.
“We were more conscious on the defensive side of the puck and playing defensively and limiting their odd-man situations,” Bylsma said. “That’s something that can’t change for us just because we’re not playing the Pittsburgh Penguins. It can’t change for us. That’s how we’re going to have to play to win hockey games at this point in time. We can’t let down our guard just because we got a shootout victory against the Penguins.”
Some other notes on tonight’s game:
– Flames goalie Brian Elliott will start, meaning former Sabres standout Chad Johnson won’t face his former teammates.
Having gone 11-0-2 with a 1.68 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage in 13 games, Elliott has enjoyed more success against the Sabres than any other team.
Johnson is 5-3-1 with a 2.31 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage in nine games this season. He played a career-high 45 games with the Sabres in 2015-16.
– The home team has won 17 of the last 19 games between the Sabres and Flames. The Flames last won in Buffalo on Dec. 14, 2013. The Flames beat the Sabres 4-3 in overtime Oct. 18 in Calgary.