NEWARK, N.J. – The Buffalo Sabres’ top two centers both sat out practice here Monday, and it appears Ryan O’Reilly is definitely questionable to play in Tuesday’s game against the New Jersey Devils.
O’Reilly and Jack Eichel both missed practice for what coach Dan Bylsma termed maintenance days. Bylsma was coy about who could be in danger of missing the game but noted that O’Reilly was injured during Saturday’s 4-3 win over the New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden while Eichel was simply dealing with ongoing issues.
The tea leaves thus surround the status of O’Reilly, especially when Bylsma said it’s possible the team could call up a forward from Rochester for the game. It could mean the return of Justin Bailey, who has 19 goals and is the first Rochester rookie to crack the 40-point mark in four years.
O’Reilly played only 18 minutes, 24 seconds in Saturday’s game, nearly three minutes under his season average of 21:45 that leads all NHL forwards. Still, O’Reilly played 7:02 in the third period, including the final 2:01 as the Sabres were protecting their one-goal lead.
O’Reilly scored a pair of first-period goals in the game, giving him 20 on the season for the second time in his career. O’Reilly joined the Sabres’ under-25 quartet of 20-goal scorers that also includes Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Evander Kane.
It’s the first time the Sabres have had four players 25 or younger hit the 20-goal mark since 1987-88, when Hall of Famer Phil Housley, Dave Andreychuk, Christian Ruuttu and Ray Sheppard all accomplished the same feat.
The Devils might get a big name back in their lineup against the Sabres as 40-year-old Patrik Elias could make his return from knee surgery that has kept him out of the lineup since Dec. 19.
Elias is the franchise’s all-time leading scorer and a two-time Stanley Cup winner but is in the final season of his contract and this could be his final week with the team. Elias has one goal and four assists in 13 games this season - but has 407 goals and 1,022 points for New Jersey in a career that saw the first of his 1,237 games played way back in 1996. He has 45 playoff goals and assisted on Jason Arnott’s Cup-clinching goal in double overtime of Game Six in the 2000 final in Dallas.
Coach John Hynes said forwards Joe Blandisi (lower body) and Sergey Kalinin (illness) are questionable after not practicing Tuesday, which could facilitate Elias’ return. Cory Schneider will start in goal.
Bylsma said the Sabres’ 50-minute practice was reminiscent of what teams endure in the playoffs because there were so many players missing. Certainly in the not-drawn-up-in-October category was an April practice that did not include Eichel, O’Reilly, Kane, Tyler Ennis, Robin Lehner or Cody Franson.
“This time of year, you get short practices and guys are banged up, injured and not out there,” said Bylsma, who has been a part of the postseason each of his first six years as an NHL coach. “You kind of feel like, even though it’s our last three games, it’s pretty normal to have guys banged up and maybe not practicing but being out there for the games.
The Sabres’ practiced Tuesday in the Barnabas Health Hockey House, the Devils’ practice rink located inside Prudential Center. The team dressed in the normal visiting locker room and simply took a long walk through the building’s corridors into the facility, which features large replicas of all the Devils’ championship banners that hang in the rafters of the main arena. The Hockey House, which took its new corporate name two weeks ago is the rink the Buffalo Beauts and Boston Pride played in last month in the first championship series of the National Women’s Hockey League. The Pride swept the series in two straight games.
The Sabres reassigned defenseman Brendan Guhle, their second-round pick last June, to Rochester after his junior team was eliminated from the Western Hockey League playoffs. In addition, 2015 sixth-rounder Giorgio Estephan was named to an Amateur Tryout by the Amerks after his WHL squad was also eliminated.
Guhle, 18, appeared in 63 WHL games with the Prince Albert Raiders, posting a career-high 10 goals and 18 assists. Estephan, 19, had 30 goals and a career-high 74 points with the Lethbridge Hurricanes, and had four points in five playoff games.