Ryan O’Reilly is back in the Sabres’ lineup, and there’s one thing on his mind.
“We have to learn to win no matter what situation it is,” O’Reilly said Wednesday morning before facing the Montreal Canadiens. “Once you’re out of the playoffs, you can’t just give up. We have to learn as a team how to win. If we want to come back strong next year, we have to use everything we can.
“For a lot of us this is a big test, and we have to go together. We have to find a way to win games and prove it to ourself. You look at the teams in the league, teams don’t just turn around and next thing you know you win the Cup. It’s years of competing and being there every single year, so we have a long way to go. These are important games. It’s going to show a lot about our character and the direction the team’s going.”
O’Reilly is re-energized and excited for the final 12 games after missing 11 with a broken foot.
“It was a good rest and a good way to regroup for this last little stretch here. Hopefully, I can be effective and find ways to have success,” the center said in First Niagara Center. “I don’t think I was playing my best hockey when I left. To come back and have that edge and excitement is going to benefit me.”
O’Reilly hasn’t scored in 18 games but still leads the Sabres with 49 points. He also leads NHL forwards in ice time at 21:51 per game, but that number should come down a little against the Canadiens.
“I think you do ease him back in, without a question,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “There’s some areas tonight where I won’t use him where I did prior to the injury. I might use him as a faceoff guy on the penalty kill but not a regular on the penalty kill. I would be surprised to see him get 22 minutes.”
Robin Lehner (5-9-4, .926 save percentage) will start in goal for the Sabres. Forward Dan Catenacci has been sent to Rochester to make room for O’Reilly. Buffalo lost Thursday in Montreal.
“Now is the time to start learning how to win games,” Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges said. “We’ve got a game here tonight, and if anyone in this room is thinking about next year then they shouldn’t come and get dressed and play. Our focus has to be on tonight. Mathematically we’re not out, so we have to come with that mind-set.”