The California trip is hard enough in the best of situations. Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose are perennial powers, and the three-game swing through those cities can leave teams begging to leave the sunshine and warm weather.
The Sabres’ journey this week is far from the best of situations.
Buffalo landed in Cali on Monday ready for an arduous week that features three games in four nights. The Sabres start Wednesday with Anaheim, which is 12-1-1 in its last 14 games. The team then leaves Southern California for a game Friday against San Jose, which had won four of six entering Monday night’s meeting with St. Louis. The Sabres head back to SoCal to close with the Kings, the Pacific Division leaders, on Saturday.
“You’re playing three tough teams in addition to the travel,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said.
The travel is actually worse than it sounds. The airport in Anaheim has a 10 p.m. curfew, so the Sabres have to bus 45 minutes to Los Angeles International Airport following the game. On top of that, the airport in San Jose has an 11 p.m. curfew, so the Sabres have to land in Oakland and bus another 45 minutes to their hotel in San Jose.
“It’s the first time for me going from Anaheim to San Jose and playing back-to-back in L.A.,” Bylsma said. “It’s a little bit of a travel-problematic schedule. You’re playing those three teams, you’re playing the hottest team in the league right now, then the L.A. Kings on the third game on back-to-back.”
The Sabres replenished their forward ranks by recalling Cal O’Reilly from Rochester. The center, who has one assist in five games with Buffalo, is tied for the Amerks lead with 22 helpers.
“I’m just going to be ready if I get the opportunity to play some minutes and help,” said O’Reilly, who may serve as the 13th forward and be a healthy scratch. “It’s been good to have some opportunities up here. Anytime you have a chance to play in the best league in the world, it’s a huge honor.”
The Sabres needed O’Reilly because his brother, Ryan, is out for up to a month with a broken foot. Ryan O’Reilly is disappointed about the injury, according to his brother and his longtime teammate Jamie McGinn.
“Hockey is his life,” McGinn said. “He loves the game and he loves to play. I know he wants to play through it right now, but the best thing for him is to rest and heal up, just get ready and get healthy. He’s taking it hard, but we’re here to help him through it.”
Defenseman Cody Franson, who is nursing a head and neck injury suffered Friday in Columbus, will make the trip. He didn’t practice Monday. Evander Kane, Brian Gionta, David Legwand and Josh Gorges also sat out, with Bylsma citing maintenance days.
Amerks goaltender Linus Ullmark, named the American Hockey League Player of the Week with a .969 save percentage in two games last week, is 6-6 in Rochester with a .922 save percentage. He was 7-10 with a .915 in Buffalo. He could return to the NHL next week if the Sabres trade Chad Johnson, a pending unrestricted free agent, by Monday’s deadline.
The Sabres’ other UFAs are McGinn, Weber, Legwand and Carlo Colaiacovo.
“It’s a big three games for us, and that’s all I’m focused on,” McGinn said. “I like it here in Buffalo, but sometimes hockey’s a business and you don’t like the outcomes sometimes. We’ll see what happens.”