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Sabres Notebook: O'Reilly returns to Buffalo for birth of son

RALEIGH, N.C. — Center Ryan O'Reilly was out of the Buffalo Sabres' lineup for the first time this season Saturday, missing the game against the Carolina Hurricanes for the birth of his first child.

The Sabres did not specify the reason for O'Reilly's absence until after the game, when coach Phil Housley announced that O'Reilly's fiancee, Dayna Douros, had given birth to a boy.

"Everything is OK. It was a last-minute thing where he had to get back to Buffalo," Housley said after the 4-2 loss to the Hurricanes in PNC Arena. "I'm glad he was able to get there. That's pretty special to see your first-born child. That was one of the positives of the day."

O'Reilly flew on the team charter here late Friday night but returned to Buffalo Saturday for the birth.

O'Reilly, who scored the first goal in Friday's 4-2 win over Philadelphia, had played all 35 previous games this season with nine goals, 14 assists and 23 points. He entered Saturday second to Jack Eichel in ice time among Buffalo forwards at 20 minutes, 22 seconds per game and was the NHL leader in faceoff percentage at 61.9 percent.

Evan Rodrigues, the lone healthy scratch up front Friday, returned to the lineup in O'Reilly's place. Johan Larsson took O'Reilly's slot at center between Evander Kane and Kyle Okposo. Rodrigues centered Scott Wilson and Jordan Nolan.

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The Sabres entered Saturday with 114 shots on goal in the last three games, putting four-goal outputs against Carolina and Philadelphia around a shutout loss against Boston. Even in that game, they still put 36 shots on Bruins goalie Anton Khudobin.

One of the lowest shot teams in the league for much of the season, the Sabres have now moved up to 21st in that department and 23rd in Corsi rating, which measures attempts. Coach Phil Housley said his team's video work is paying off in generating more chances at the goal.

"It shows when pucks are going to the net how it changes defenses, how the other team has to react to us," Housley said before the game. "The guys get a good visual of it. When they start doing it, it seems we're getting second opportunities, we're getting sustained offensive zone time. When they do that, we're playing in the right area — we're in their zone, which is where everybody wants to play."

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Jack Eichel's two empty-net goals were a talking point from Friday's game, because they marked the first time in franchise history a player had a pair of empty netters in the same game. But while they got the air time you'd expect, NHL Network also spent lots of time Friday night showcasing Eichel's defensive ability.

During a first-period Buffalo power play, the Flyers broke out on a 2-on-1 break and Eichel made up more than 25 feet — even bumping Okposo out of the way in the process — to catch up to the play from behind in the Buffalo zone and prevent a scoring chance.

"His play away from the puck is getting better," Housley said. "You look at the goal he saved on the power play. He just put his head down and you could see how his speed is so valuable to our team."

Housley said those are the kind of plays he's impressed upon Eichel are ones made by elite players.

"Those things away from the puck are great things. That's what separates your leaders," Housley said. "He's taking what the game gives him, and sometimes you're going to have to defend. You're going to be in your own end, live to fight another day and he's been pretty responsible not cheating when things aren't going the way he wants them to. He's just being patient with it."

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Robin Lehner got the night off in goal after starting 12 of the last 15 games and appearing in 13 of them (he relieved Chad Johnson in the Nov. 22 loss in Minnesota). By rules of the NHL CBA, the Sabres get three days off before returning to the ice for their morning skate Wednesday in Brooklyn prior to their game against the New York Islanders.

"We're going to have to really manage things right out of that break," Housley said. "It's great to see Robin get some rest. He deserves it. He's been playing really well, kept us in every game."

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* Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen played his 300th career game. He entered play Saturday third in the NHL in ice time at 26:52 per game.

* After another scoreless opening 20 minutes, the Sabres remain stuck on 15 first-period goals through 35 games. That's the lowest figure in the league for any team in any period.

* Friday's win was the Sabres' 998th regular-season victory at home between Memorial Auditorium and KeyBank Center.

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