BUFFALO – At this point, as the Sabres stumble at the end of another disappointing season, frustration has started overwhelming Ryan O’Reilly.
O’Reilly, 26, has experienced enough losing. The popular center passionately called out himself and his teammates to be better during a brutally honest chat with the media prior to Wednesday’s home finale against the Montreal Canadiens, a 2-1 win.
“I’m sick of losing,” O’Reilly said inside KeyBank Center. “It’s getting exhausting and it’s not fun. It sucks the fun out of the game.”
With the Sabres out of the playoffs and only two games left, practice has “no purpose right now,” O’Reilly said. Just coming to the rink is “frustrating.”
O’Reilly said he saw the upstart Toronto Maple Leafs, who throttled the Sabres 4-2 on Monday, preparing for the playoffs and thought that’s “the spot we should be in.”
But don’t blame the coaches, O’Reilly said. Coach Dan Bylsma, of course, has endured heaps of criticism as the Sabres have fallen into their regular spot among the Eastern Conference’s bottom-feeders.
“The coaches can only do so much,” O’Reilly said. “We’re the ones on the ice, we’re the ones playing the game. When it comes down to it, it’s our responsibility. I’m a big piece of that and other guys (are), too. You can’t run to him to take the fall. It’s a lot of us. We’ve all kind of let it slip here.”
O’Reilly understands the Sabres received a mulligan last season, his first here. The Sabres had just gone through a huge rebuild, gutting the roster. Expectations were low.
Of course, this season, following a 27-point improvement in 2015-16, they were supposed to jump into the playoffs for the first time since 2011.
“Your first year it’s all right because there are so many new faces and you can see it took a while for guys to get used to each other in playing,” O’Reilly said. “But then this year you start to get things going and then you fall back into old habits again and our old ways. …
“A big piece of it is me. Being a leader, a lot of it falls on me. But to do it two years in a row like this and not go anywhere and not get any better it’s pathetic. It’s so frustrating. Things have got to change. We’ve got three games left here and we’ve got to prove something at least to ourselves.”
He added: “I have to be more consistent on the ice with my own play; at the same time I have to be a much better vocal leader.”
O’Reilly said as a leader, he “really didn’t step up and hold guys accountable and be a voice.” He said Kyle Okposo’s voice helped when the high-scoring winger recently returned from a rib injury.
“He came in and he addressed everything,” O’Reilly said.
Okposo, however, became ill last week and is hospitalized at Buffalo General Hospital Neuro Surgical ICU, according to WGR and The Buffalo News.
O’Reilly wants the Sabres to be “students of the game” and “learn” during the last three games.
“We’ve got to watch these teams and how they perform and how they play away from the puck and learn as much as we can,” he said. “Careers are short in this game. We know a lot of time’s going out for myself and it’s got to change.”
For almost six months, defenseman Jake McCabe was one of the Sabres’ steadiest players, showcasing consistency the team’s blue line sorely needed. But the Wisconsin native has morphed into a gaffe machine in the last week, committing a string of costly turnovers.
So McCabe, 23, was a healthy scratch for the first time all season Wednesday.
“He’s made a few gaffes with the puck in costly situations, costly areas and kind of gotten into a bit of a hole as a result of it and lost a little confidence with his puck play,” Dan Bylsma said. “We’ve seen that the last couple games.”
Don’t expect McCabe, who’s in his second full NHL season, to sit long.
“He’s been a good player for us, is a good player for us and will be going forward,” Bylsma said. “It’s an opportunity to take a step back and reset yourself.”
Justin Falk replaced McCabe. The Sabres made other lineup changes.
Update: Ullmark has been sent back to the Rochester Americans.
In other news, Bylsma said the Sabres haven’t decided what they will do with top defense prospect Brendan Guhle, whose junior season just ended.
His Prince George Cougars had an 18-hour bus trip home from Portland, Bylsma said. Welcome to travel in the Western Hockey League.
“I think they’ve made it there by now,” Bylsma joked.
The Sabres handed out their end-of-year awards Wednesday: O’Reilly was named MVP; center Evan Rodrigues was named rookie of the year; McCabe was named unsung hero; defenseman Zach Bogosian was named Sabres Foundation Man of the Year for his community service.