Ryan O’Reilly skated hard with the puck in the Chicago zone and fed Sam Reinhart behind the net. Reinhart waited, drifted and fed O’Reilly back through the slot. The shot beat Corey Crawford and gave the Buffalo Sabres a 2-1 lead over the Chicago Blackhawks at First Niagara Center Saturday afternoon.
The lead did not hold up over the final three minutes of the game and the Blackhawks went on to win, 3-2, in a shootout.
But the quality of that play is an encouraging sign for the Sabres offense as Reinhart and O’Reilly are finding a dynamic-duo chemistry.
“He’s so easy to play with,” O’Reilly said. “He does so many things right. He’s so smart and on top of that he works hard. I think anyone on the team would be happy to play with a guy like that. We’re starting to find each other more and more.”
The two are often the last players off the ice at practice, spending extra time working with each other, getting to know the other’s game so plays become natural. They’ve been on the same line at times throughout the season, but it’s been the last few games when they’ve been consistently together along with winger Jaime McGinn.
“We’ve skated with each other a lot. Early on even, I think Tampa was the first game we played together quite some time ago,” Reinhart said. “Then we got away from each other and found each other again. With McGinn on that other side we’ve started to create something and I think with O’Reilly, he’s such a smart guy he always finds the right spot. If you find him at the right time he’s going to make something happen.”
The connection between O’Reilly and Reinhart certainly was the highlight of that goal. But don’t forget to notice the work of Reinhart behind the net. He held the puck and drew attention from Crawford, who then couldn’t get around to focus on O’Reilly in time. Reinhart set the play up not just with the pass but with his patience.
“That was a big-time play,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “Ryan does a good job in the corner getting away from” Chicago defenseman Brent “Seabrook and makes the play to Sam, and Sam just shows a ton of patience. He’s drifting over the goalie’s left shoulder. He’s drifting way back there and makes a same-side feed. It’s an empty net. It’s half empty but Crawford had looked over his left shoulder and was looking over there and the puck’s gone the other way and it’s a pretty spectacular passing play by that line.”
O’Reilly is perhaps the most openly self-critical player on the Sabres, perhaps even in the NHL. After the game ,when asked about a gutty, albeit unsuccessful performance while killing off a 6-on-3 (two-man advantage plus the extra attacker), O’Reilly was unimpressed, mostly with his own play.
“Still it’s about results. It’s pathetic and embarrassing. It’s not good enough,” O’Reilly said. “I myself missed too many chances and the shootout, I was embarrassed by that. That’s not leadership. We have to close that out. It’s just not acceptable.”
O’Reilly had the first shot during the shootout and his backhand missed wide of the net. “I didn’t put it where I wanted,” he said.
O’Reilly also had a chance to seal the win on the penalty kill in the final two minutes when he sent the puck down the ice toward the empty Chicago net. The puck went just wide.
“That goes in we win the game and again that’s on me,” O’Reilly said. “I have to put that in.”
Tyler Ennis returned after missing 12 games with a lower-body injury. He had two shots, including one glorious scoring opportunity that Crawford snagged with his glove in the second period. He took the second shot for the Sabres in the shootout but his wrist shot was saved.
“We were right there. This one stings,” Ennis said.
Ennis finished with 14:59 of ice time and now has six days to recover before the next game.
Evaluating Ennis’ performance Bylsma said, “I thought he was good. I thought he had good jump in his legs.”
O’Reilly’s goal gives him 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in his last 13 games. … O’Reilly also has 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in his last 16 games against the Blackhawks. … In his 13 games since the beginning of November, Chad Johnson is 6-4-1 with a .942 save percentage and a 1.71 goals-against average.