Tim Murray was in the mood for immediate satisfaction when he called the Colorado Avalanche. After 17 months of looking toward the future, the Sabres’ general manager wanted players who could provide victories now.
It’s clear he picked up the right two.
Ryan O’Reilly has been everything Murray envisioned, while Jamie McGinn has provided more than anyone could have imagined. The acquisitions from the Avalanche shined again Saturday night while delivering a 2-1 overtime victory over the Los Angeles Kings.
O’Reilly scored the game-winner with 1:41 left in overtime to end Buffalo’s three-game losing streak. The center cut to the middle, tripped on the stick of Kings defenseman Alex Martinez and fired into the top shelf while falling for the 100th goal of his career.
“I watch this guy day in and day out on the ice,” McGinn said, “and he’s a special player. He’s capable of those things all the time. He’s a smart player. When you’re in close like that you’ve got to get it upstairs, and I’m very happy for him for his 100th goal. To score in that fashion is pretty amazing.”
It’s nearly impossible to overstate what O’Reilly has meant to the Sabres. He leads the team in goals (10), assists (17) and points (27). He leads NHL forwards in ice time at 21:51 per game. He skates 16:58 at even strength, 2:58 on the power play and 1:55 on the penalty kill. He takes every important faceoff (and virtually every semi-important one), and he’s winning 58.6 percent.
“He’s pretty much been there in every situation and every opportunity for our team,” coach Dan Bylsma said in First Niagara Center. “He’s come up big again for us. Obviously, scores a fantastic goal for us in the overtime, but all game long he’s out there against the top line of the opposition and he’s been nothing short of magnificent for us.”
O’Reilly had a one-goal, one-assist night to extend his point streak to seven games, one shy of his career high. He can tie it Monday in Detroit. O’Reilly has three goals and 10 points during the run, putting him on pace for a 27-goal, 73-point season.
“Obviously, I feel good about myself,” said O’Reilly, who has been hard on himself following losses. “Anytime you can win a game you feel great, but at the same time we have to start preparing for Detroit. This win means nothing if we don’t come again the next game and do the same things.
“If you can’t consistently do it, you’re not going to get the effect you want and I’m not going to be happy with myself.”
The Sabres knew O’Reilly could be a cornerstone, which is why they signed the 24-year-old to a seven-year, $52.5 million extension shortly after the June trade. McGinn has hardly been a throw-in.
The 27-year-old has points in seven of eight games, earning a bump to the top line alongside O’Reilly and Sam Reinhart. McGinn scored on a power-play backhand between his legs to pull the Sabres into a 1-1 tie in the first period.
“I had to see the replay again to actually make sense that he did actually go between his legs and somehow beat the goaltender,” Bylsma said. “He played probably his best game of the year in a lot of areas while playing big for us on the top line.”
McGinn has three goals and five assists during his eight-game run, bringing his season totals to six goals and 14 points. He’s second on the team with 64 hits.
“I’ve said this before but he’s one of the most underrated players out there right now,” O’Reilly said of the pending unrestricted free agent, who has a $3 million salary. “He does so many good things. He’s physical. He goes to the net. He’s got a great shot. Like that goal tonight, he’s persistent.
“He’s been a big piece for us.”
Both players have been big pieces for a team that needed immediate help. It wouldn’t have gotten it from the guys who were sent to Colorado. Defenseman Nikita Zadorov is in the minors. Mikhail Grigorenko had one goal and nine assists in 25 games. J.T. Compher is still in college with three goals and 17 points in 14 games with Michigan. The 31st overall pick would be in juniors, college or Europe.
The trade won’t be fully evaluated for years, but Murray and the Sabres got what they wanted - immediate satisfaction. In fact, they’ve doubled their pleasure.
“I’ve played with ‘Factor’ before, and I really enjoy it,” McGinn said of O’Reilly. “I want to continue doing those small things and showing that I’m into games and I’m ready to play. If I continue that, hopefully I can continue this stretch here of success and continue to play with ‘Factor’ and just help the team win.”
Said O’Reilly: “Hopefully, I’ve got a lot more milestones still to come.”