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After Sabres' 'pathetic' season, O'Reilly looking for internal fix

Ryan O’Reilly is finishing his eighth NHL season. He’s made the playoffs just twice, never advancing past the first round.

The frustration increases with each meaningless spring.

“Careers are short in this game,” the Sabres center said. “To do it two years in a row and not go anywhere, not get any better, it’s pathetic. It’s so frustrating.

“Things got to change.”

For O’Reilly, voted the team MVP by Buffalo’s players, change needs to come from within.

“Look at the talent and look at us on paper against most teams, and I feel we can beat them,” O’Reilly said. “But it’s beyond that now. There’s so many other things. Every single guy, you see good things at times and you see bad things. That’s myself, and that’s everyone.

“We have to get an internal psychology here where each guy can go inside and make those adjustments and move on.”

A failure to excel when needed is the main reason the Sabres will follow Saturday’s game in Florida and Sunday’s finale in Tampa Bay with their locker cleanout. The bad things O’Reilly referenced occurred at the most inopportune times.

As the Sabres approached the Christmas break, they were in the middle of the Atlantic Division playoff race with several games in hand. They promptly went 1-4-2.

By mid-February, they had again reached playoff contention. After enjoying their bye week, they promptly went 2-7-2.

See you next year ... for the sixth straight year.

“It can’t go unnoticed that every chance we had to play a big game, move up in the standings, slide into the playoff picture …  we weren’t up to the challenge and fell short in those games,” coach Dan Bylsma said.

“We had too many ups and downs,” captain Brian Gionta added. “With the league the way it is, we had ourselves in contention a few times. We were a couple points back of that wild-card spot, then you have a bad week and teams pull away from you.

“Coming in and still now, we should be a playoff team, so we underachieved on that. It’s disappointing for us in this room.”

The disappointment has been evident in a somber dressing room after lackluster practices. The Sabres were no-shows Monday against Toronto, losing their third straight. They finished the home schedule Wednesday with a 2-1 victory over Montreal, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if that’s their last hurrah.

“It’s so disappointing, so frustrating coming to the rink right now and practicing,” O’Reilly said. “There’s no purpose to it. Seeing other teams gear up for playoffs and seeing Toronto who’s young, too, seeing them in the spot that we should be in, it’s very frustrating.

“I’m sick of losing. It’s getting exhausting. It’s not fun. It sucks the fun out of the game.”

O’Reilly is taking the disappointment personally. He is in the first season of a seven-year, $52.5 million contract that made him the highest-paid player in team history. The intangibles that sent him to the top of the payroll were insufficient.

“As a leader, I really didn’t step up and hold guys accountable, be a voice, and it’s tough,” O’Reilly said. “It’s tough right now.

“We start to get things going, then we fall back into bad habits again and our old ways. A big piece of it is me. It is.”

The 26-year-old will once again finish in the 20-goal, 60-point range. That’s become his home. But he was wildly inconsistent. He has 16 goals, 36 points and a plus-17 rating in 29 victories. He has two goals, eight points and a minus-18 rating in 30 losses.

It’s why he took the blame after being questioned about Bylsma.

“The coaches can only do so much,” O’Reilly said. “We’re the ones on the ice. We’re the ones playing the games. When it comes down to it, it’s our responsibility. I’m a big piece of that, and other guys, too.

“You can’t look at him to take the fall. It’s a lot of us. We’ve all let it slip through.”

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Brendan Guhle, the Sabres' top defense prospect, finished last season in Rochester. It appears this season will be no different.

Guhle's junior team was eliminated from the playoffs this week, and the 19-year-old told the local paper he was on his way to the Amerks on Thursday – and he was never coming back to Prince George.

"It's a chance to prove myself and get ready for next year, and I'm looking forward to it," Guhle told the Prince George (British Columbia) Citizen. "I'm not planning on coming back next year, but you never know."

Guhle played three games for the Sabres in December and looked ready for the NHL. Because he was an emergency recall, Buffalo had to send him back to juniors.

Guhle totaled 15 goals and 29 points in 47 junior games. He added six assists in six playoff games as Prince George was upset in the first round.

The Sabres selected Guhle in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft and quickly signed him to a three-year contract. He will likely join the Amerks on a tryout basis, and his entry-level deal would start next year. Rochester has six games left.

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