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O'Reilly's sudden illness leaves hole in Sabres' middle

DETROIT -- The Buffalo Sabres got through all their injuries and were hoping the Christmas break would allow them to get refreshed and help snap them out of their doldrums.

But even three days off proved to be problematic as center Ryan O'Reilly was felled by an emergency appendectomy. The team confirmed the procedure Tuesday and sources told The Buffalo News it was peformed on Christmas Day in Buffalo General Hospital. O'Reilly, the team's highest-paid player, is likely to be out 2-3 weeks.

"The initial part is 10-14 days of healing time on the procedure and the lack thereof of an appendix," coach Dan Bylsma said prior to Tuesday's game against the Detroit Red Wings in Joe Louis Arena. "It's roughly that period of time of rest and recovery and then getting back on the ice."

"It's tough news to take," captain Brian Gionta acknowledged. "But at the end of the day it's a good thing he had it and found it early on and it was nothing too severe. He's a big piece of this team, there's no doubt about that. But we've said all along guys have to step up, take that opportunity and fill that void. It has been tough here but by no means are we going to sit and make excuses about that."

O'Reilly, 25, missed six games earlier this season with an oblique problem. He has seven goals and and 11 assists in 27 games this season and leads the team with 85 shots on goal. He's playing in the first season of the seven-year, $52.5 million contract extension he signed with the team in July, 2015 shortly after he was acquired from Colorado in a draft night trade.

O'Reilly is making $11 million this year -- the fifth-highest sum in the NHL -- while playing on a $7.5 million cap hit. But he hasn't come close to making the Sabres' investment pay off on the stat sheet as he has struggled with just one goal in his last 11 games. That drought came after O'Reilly scored twice in the Nov. 29 win at Ottawa, the game that saw Jack Eichel make his season debut after missing the first 21 games due to a high ankle sprain.

In terms of raw salary, the only players making more than O'Reilly this year are Los Angeles' Anze Kopitar ($14 million), the Chicago duo of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews ($13.8 million) and Montreal's Shea Weber ($12 million). O'Reilly and Nashville's P.K. Subban are both at $11 million.

Still, O'Reilly's loss will be felt by the Sabres in several areas. He averages 21 minutes, 31 seconds per game and entered Tuesday's play third in the NHL in ice time among forwards behind South Buffalo native Kane (21:56) and Anaheim's Ryan Kesler (21:35). He is a key member of the Buffalo power play that entered Tuesday fourth in the NHL and a regular on the team's penalty killing unit, which hit the holiday break last in the league.

Sam Reinhart moved back to center Tuesday to take O'Reilly's spot between Zemgus Girgensons and Kyle Okposo.

"It's tough," Reinhart said. "Any time you lose a guy it's tough and especially a guy like that and the way he goes down. It's kind of a freak. We're hoping for the best. Give him time to recover and I'm sure he's going to be ready when he comes back."

Reinhart's absence means the Sabres will take the ice for the forseeable future with their top two centers being their back-to-back No. 2 overall picks from the 2014 and 2015 drafts. Reinhart has played mostly wing for the last year but the Sabres hope to spark some offense from him by playing in the middle. Reinhart has seven goals and 12 assists in 33 games, but just two goals in the last 11 games.

"Throughout the year, I'm going to play center at some points," Reinhart said. "I think it helps my game. Hopefully I can keep moving my feet and play better playing the middle."

O'Reilly is certain to miss this week's key home-and-home series with the Boston Bruins, which opens Thursday night in KeyBank Center. He's also likely to miss next week's road trip to New York and Chicago and the Jan. 7 home matinee against Winnipeg. The earliest return date might be Jan. 10 against Philadelphia.

While the injury is a blow for the Sabres, the timetable for O'Reilly is consistent with other NHL players in that it's not a long-term ailment. Montreal captain Max Pacioretty missed four games and returned eight days after an appendectomy in January, 2013. Dallas star Jamie Benn missed five games and was out about two weeks following his procedure in January, 2012.

Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford had an appendectomy Dec. 3 and returned to the lineup Friday against Colorado.



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