The statistics are mind-blowing in their disparity. When Ryan O’Reilly is good, so are the Sabres. When O’Reilly is bad, so are the Sabres.
He was good Thursday night. Any guesses who else was?
Buffalo dominated Arizona for 40 minutes, then stormed back for a 6-3 victory after blowing yet another third-period lead. When the Three Stars skated out in KeyBank Center, O’Reilly took the No. 1 spot. He had a one-goal, three-point night to get out of a four-game funk.
Not surprisingly, his four-game slide was a team-wide event. Buffalo went 0-3-1. Here are the up-and-down numbers:
*O’Reilly has been part of 23 victories, and he’s recorded 13 goals, 29 points and a plus-14 rating.
*The center has skated in 21 losses, and he’s put up no goals, four points and a minus-11 rating.
*In 10 overtime and shootout losses that got the Sabres a point, O’Reilly has one goal, nine points and is plus-1.
During the Sabres’ four-game slide, he had no goals, one assist and was minus-3.
“I’ve been really disappointed with myself the last few games,” O’Reilly said in KeyBank Center. “I haven’t created enough. Again, it’s on myself. I’ve got to be one of the key guys that has to lead this team into the playoffs. To not do it is frustrating.
“To get on the board tonight is good, but it doesn’t mean anything if I don’t show up the next game.”
The Sabres host Tampa Bay on Saturday, and Buffalo will be happy with a repeat performance from its highest-paid player.
O’Reilly pulled the Sabres into a 1-1 tie by setting up Marcus Foligno for a short-handed goal. The center outfought two Coyotes for the puck along the boards, then skated between them to set up Foligno.
“In previous games, I wasn’t winning those battles,” he said. “I was fighting it a bit. That gives me confidence when I win a couple battles and outwork a couple guys. I get out of my head and I’m playing. I’m into the game.”
Said coach Dan Bylsma: “You need big plays from your big players. You got it from the first play on the penalty kill there. Obviously, we’re out there to kill a penalty, and they’re up, 1-0, at that time. He comes up with a big play, and it’s a big goal for us. I think it was a huge goal for our team mentally.”
O’Reilly scored his 14th goal of the year to make it 2-1. His 28th assist of the season was another mental boost for Buffalo.
After dominating everywhere but the scoreboard, Buffalo was on the verge of losing a third straight game while holding a third-period lead. Instead, O’Reilly put a no-look, behind-the-back pass onto the stick of Buffalo’s hottest scorer. Evander Kane buried it, giving the Sabres a 4-3 advantage with 5:36 to play.
Once again, it was the kind of play O’Reilly hadn’t been making.
“I don’t think I was getting the puck enough,” he said. “Not from other players, it’s I wasn’t creating turnovers like I usually do and moving my feet and getting to the puck and creating offense.
“I felt like I was playing in the D-zone a lot, watching their best players skate around. I love playing against the other team’s top lines. It’s something I think is a good challenge, and I want to prove I’m better than those guys. But I feel like I was just getting outplayed by them. It’s frustrating for me.”
The frustration sailed away after Foligno and Sam Reinhart added empty-net goals. Foligno set a career high with his short-handed goal, then extended his total to 12. Jack Eichel matched O’Reilly with a goal and two assists.
“When they scored” to make it 3-3, Eichel said, “we kind of snapped into shape a little bit and started playing again. We’re still going to need to clean it up. We’ve got to be a lot better.
“We’ll take the two points, but we shouldn’t be satisfied with the way we played. I still think there’s another level.”