Think Evander Kane is upset to be pried away from playing with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart? Hardly.
Tongue firmly planted in cheek, the Buffalo Sabres’ winger had some fun with reporters who approached his locker Monday in First Niagara Center to gauge his reaction on the team’s new line combinations that will see him reunited with Ryan O’Reilly.
“It’s tough. I was very disappointed when I saw my jersey color today and I told him that to his face,” Kane said, failing to hide his laughter while talking about O’Reilly. “He understood why.”
When Kane reported for work, he was slotted on a line wearing orange jerseys with Nic Deslauriers on the other wing. Out after nearly four weeks with a foot injury, O’Reilly looks good to go for Wednesday’s game here against Montreal.
It was a decision that coach Dan Bylsma said he’s been weighing for several days but one that became a huge talking point after Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win over Carolina, a game that saw Eichel score goals on setups by Reinhart and Kane.
Turning serious, Kane said he understood the coach’s thinking. Kane and O’Reilly had plenty of chemistry together earlier in the season while it’s only in recent games that Kane and Eichel began to click. And putting Zemgus Girgensons with Reinhart and Eichel gives the Sabres a chance of having two scoring lines.
“It obviously makes our forward lineup a lot stronger when you have him in the middle with Jack,” Kane said of O’Reilly. “Dan thought that would be the best lineup to go with to start and I’m looking forward to being with him. Me, Jack and ‘Ryno’ had quite a bit of success. Now that we know we can play like that, it obviously is an option if situations occur.”
The Kane-Eichel-Reinhart line connected for eight goals and 20 points in seven games and Bylsma understands that’s a lot of offense to push aside. But he said he was thinking with a bigger vision and not just looking at short-term numbers.
“What’s going to be the best moving forward is more of a long-term approach than just, ‘OK, 9-15-23 have been playing together real well. We’re going to keep them together for one more game and see what happens,’ ” Bylsma said. “Maybe a little longer projection when you’re thinking about putting what lines are going together.”
Bylsma said there was a lot of shuffling done in his mind and he also examined the burgeoning checking line of Johan Larsson between Marcus Foligno and Brian Gionta. He decided that unit should stay together.
“Do you break up that line when Ryan returns? There’s different possibilities I’ve certainly looked at,” Bylsma said. “Really, seeing Sam playing well next to Jack has been one of the deciding factors in keeping them together. Ryan also needs wingers next to him on his line.”
“Sam and Jack have been playing phenomenal together with Kaner,” O’Reilly said. “They’re moving the puck well, finding things right now. It will be nice to play with Kaner. It will be good to get back playing with him and generate some offense right away.”
Eichel has said several times this year he has enjoyed playing with Girgensons, whose only two goals since the New Year came on Eichel’s wing in the Jan. 26 loss at New York.
“We were both pretty fast,” Girgensons said. “We pushed the pace and made simple plays moving the puck forward. I had a good run” with Deslauriers and Cal O’Reilly. “I thought we had some good games but it’s definitely going to be fun with Jack and Sam together.”
Ryan O’Reilly, who has been out for 11 games, skated for 90 minutes early Saturday morning and tried to talk his way into the lineup for the 1 p.m. matinee. Bylsma said no to that but all signs looked good Monday as the team’s lone All-Star practiced fully with no complications.
“It definitely feels like it’s been a long time watching practices and games,” Ryan O’Reilly said. “It’s nice to be out there with the guys.”
Tyler Ennis, who has been sidelined since Dec. 30 after suffering his second concussion of the season, continues to be away from practice. With the dawn of a new week, Bylsma was again asked for an update and said he has still not yet ruled out Ennis from returning at some point in the final 12 games.
“I’m still holding out hope,” Bylsma said. “He is getting better and that’s really why I hold out hope for him. If he has been stagnant, hasn’t been improving, we’re getting close to the time when you say you might not. But he has improved. He’s made progressions in his workouts in where he’s at.”
With O’Reilly back, Ennis and Cody Franson (neck) remain the only players on the injured list.