Ryan O'Reilly's ice time hasn't dipped much. ©2017, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Sabres’ Ryan O’Reilly still relied upon heavily

BUFFALO – Ideally, the Sabres won’t have to keep utilizing versatile center Ryan O’Reilly for more than 25 minutes a game like they did in Sunday’s 4-3 loss in Pittsburgh.

O’Reilly, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said, has a “sweet spot” for his ice time. While he didn’t give a specific number, it’s probably in the 21- or 22-minute range.

Bylsma said during training camp he wanted to give O’Reilly, who led all NHL forwards in ice time last season, a little less playing time.

Five months into the season, Bylsma has trimmed O’Reilly’s ice time by … one second.

O’Reilly averaged 21:44 in his 71 appearances last season. He was at 21:43 – the highest total among forwards again – in his 56 games this season entering Tuesday’s 6-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers at KeyBank Center.

He played 23:08 and a season-high 25:32 in back-to-back weekend games.

“He’s never going to come off the ice if I put him out there, and that was the case in the last couple games,” Bylsma said prior to the game. “He got a few more minutes than maybe his sweet spot is.”

The huge ice times haven’t hurt O’Reilly’s offensive production. He had a four-game point streak (three goals and six points) and a goal in three straight games entering Tuesday.

“I’m never going to say no to going on the ice,” O’Reilly said. “If it was up to me, I’d play the full 60. … I have no problem with it. I think sometimes it can get tough, you have to manage the shifts a bit better and things like that.

“I love going on the ice. I think I can be effective every time I touch it.”

Don’t be surprised if O’Reilly keeps earning big minutes. The Sabres are fighting to stay in the playoff chase. They’re also missing first-line winger Kyle Okposo, who’s week-to-week with a rib injury. O’Reilly just overtook Okposo for the team’s scoring lead.

“There’s situations that we try to trim the minutes out from Ryan and use him for a faceoff and get him off the ice on a penalty is one of them, versus having him stay on the ice,” Bylsma said. “We get situations where we need a big draw – defensive situations, D-zone – those are the situations where you’re going to see his minutes remain high.”

O’Reilly, 26, set a high standard for production in 2015-16, compiling 21 goals and a team-best 60 points. At this time last season, however, he was in the midst of a 24-game goal drought.

He began the game with 16 goals and 44 points this season, a 21-goal, 57-point pace.

“I want to be up in that point range or even more,” O’Reilly said of last year’s numbers. “I don’t have a specific number and specific total in each. But I think each game calls for different things. Sometimes I got to shoot the puck a bit more.”

Bylsma said: “When he’s shot the puck, it’s when he’s been a factor for us in the goal-scoring column for us, same on the power play. Power-play goals have been one-timers coming over to his side.”

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Sabres winger William Carrier, out the last 17 games with a bone bruise in his knee, briefly started skating again but has stopped, Bylsma said.

The rookie won’t need surgery, Bylsma said.

“It has lingered forever, but it’s not something that will last,” he said. “The pain has to dissipate, and he’s got to have some healing on the bone.”

Bylsma compared the injury to a golfer taking a divot.

“Every time you move, you continue to take a swing at the same divot over and over and over and over again,” he said. “That’s what happened for him, and now it has to heal. We’d like him to be able to move around and do something, but every time you do it’s on the same spot. It’s a bone bruise, and he’s gotten a little better, but it’s still non-weight-bearing.”

Carrier, one of the Sabres’ biggest surprises this season, has four goals and six points in 35 games.

Notes: Sabres defenseman Dmitry Kulikov (upper body) missed his second game. Winger Kyle Okposo (ribs) missed his third game. …

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