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Sabres Notebook: After another break, Ristolainen changes sticks

It happened again. In the first period on the power play, Rasmus Ristolainen went to take a slap shot from the point and his stick broke.

He sat during a power play in the second period as he and head coach Dan Bylsma exchanged words on the bench.

In the second period, Ristolainen was using a different stick and he promptly helped set up the Sabres first goal of the game – a power play tally by Kyle Okposo.

That goal opened the offensive gates for the Sabres who scored three times on the power play in the second period on their way to a 4-2 win over the Calgary Flames in KeyBank Center Monday night.

When asked if he encouraged Ristolainen to change his stick, Bylsma only gave a non-verbal comment, pursing his lips and looking away.

Ristolainen said changing sticks "was just a game decision."

Ristolainen had used a Warrior Covert for the first 17 games of the season. On Friday, he practiced with a Bauer Nexus saying afterward he wasn't sure what he was going to do in the next game.

Out came the Warrior Covert on Saturday as the Sabres beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in a shootout. Ristolainen made it through that game without breaking a stick.

What will the defenseman use on Wednesday when the Sabres host the Detroit Red Wings?

"Actually I'm not sure right now," Ristolainen said. "I'm struggling with the stick so I'm not sure what I'm going to go with next so I really don't have an answer for that."

Ristolainen is still looking for his first goal of the season. He had a career-best nine goals last year with 41 points. He has eight assists through 19 games this season – all points coming on the power play.

With his assist Monday, Ristolainen has six points (four goals, two assists in his last four games against Calgary.

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The Sabres got some good news on the injury front Monday morning as Ryan  O'Reilly skated with his teammates for the first time since injuring his oblique on Nov. 12. Part of O'Reilly wanted to be the lineup Monday night, but the wiser part listened to the medical staff to give his body more time to properly recover. 

"It’s tough. This month has been a pretty hectic month when every other day we’re playing," O'Reilly said Monday morning. "As much as I want to come back, I’ve got to be smart here. It’s a long season. You’ve just got to be patient.

"I think if we’re in playoffs, it’s a different situation. There’s a lot of hockey left. Obviously it’s frustrating right now. We’re not where we want to be these last few games. We need to score goals and that’s one of my jobs and not being able to do it is frustrating but we’ve got a good staff here; I’ve got to trust them and be smart with it."

The oblique injury impacts every facet of being on the ice, although O'Reilly noted he didn't feel any particular aggravation on faceoffs, one of many key areas he excels in for the Sabres.

Despite missing the last four games, O'Reilly ranks second among NHL forwards with an average ice time of 21 minutes, 46 seconds per game. He ranked eighth in the NHL in faceoffs won (187) and third in win percentage (60.5 percent) among players with at least 100 faceoffs.

In the meantime, he gets another opportunity to watch his older brother suit up for the Sabres. It was a proud brother moment for O'Reilly on Saturday when he watched as Cal O'Reilly scored the winning goal in the shootout over the Penguins.

"I was hoping he was going to go," Ryan said of Cal. "Since watching him play growing up, he’s always been excellent in the shootout. I learned a lot of things from him. To see him go there, I was confident he was going to bury it."

Cal's shot is "a tough one," Ryan said. "He stick handles so much going down the ice, gets a feel then just the way he starts that move, it’s so tough. Goalies have no idea where it’s going."

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Jack Eichel continued to skate on his own as he continues to recover from a high-ankle sprain. Wednesday will mark the six-week mark for the injury which was scheduled to keep him out six to eight weeks. It does sound like he could be skating with the team soon, though.

“Jack has now skated a seventh time I believe,” Bylsma said. “After the first couple times he’s ramped up to probably his third level of skating. For Jack, there’s about seven.

“Hopefully, you’ll see another level of participation from him in short order. Hopefully, that means we’re progressing.”

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