Ryan O'Reilly never saw this start coming for the Sabres.
"I thought we were going to win a lot and be in a much different spot," he said Monday, "but it's harder than it looks."
The alternate captain speaks from experience. He has seen how long it can take to build a team. He's also seen how quickly one can fall apart.
After helping Colorado make the playoffs as a rookie, O'Reilly endured three straight years without the postseason. Finally, in 2013-14, everything clicked. The Avalanche went 52-22-8 to win the Central Division.
They were one-year wonders. They've missed the playoffs for three straight seasons. After Sunday night's trade of Matt Duchene to Ottawa, it will likely be four.
"You had a good group of core guys, and once it kind of falls apart, it's tough," O'Reilly said. "It takes awhile. It took awhile to kind of grow that.
"Things just changed that next year, and it was tough to get back."
The Sabres, who host Washington on Tuesday night in KeyBank Center, took their big step two seasons ago. While they didn't win a division or make the playoffs like Colorado, they had a 27-point increase to 81 that made people believe they were on the right path.
They slipped to 78 points last season and are pace for only 59 this year. They sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
"We think a couple little changes here and there and we're going to be better, but we all have to demand more out of ourselves," O'Reilly said. "It feels like we are a little fragile right now. When things don't go well, it's tough to climb back.
"We have to climb back, get that excitement back and prove we're a better team than how we're playing."
Eight of the next 12 games are at home, so that might be a boost. Injured defensemen Nathan Beaulieu and Josh Gorges could return to practice this week, while Zach Bogosian has also shown progress.
The team defense could use help. The Sabres are allowing 3.71 goals per game, which ranks 29th out of 31 teams.
The offense is of equal concern. Buffalo is averaging 2.5 goals, which also ranks a lowly 29th. The power-play unit that led the NHL last season is 29th at 12.5 percent.
"We've talked about a lot of things," O'Reilly said. "We address a lot of things when we go through video. We think we know, but it comes down to a lot of this is on us, our top guys, myself included.
"We have to grab the group in here and do it."
While the top guys can always do more, specifically on the power play, they're also the only ones producing. Evander Kane and Jack Eichel have 13 points in the 14 games, while O'Reilly and Jason Pominville have 12.
No one else has more than six.
"Every team has got to find their way, find their groove, find a way to connect," O'Reilly said. "The coaching staff I think has done a great job. We've got a good system in place. Day in, day out, the leadership has to commit to that and do that so everyone else gets on board. We have to stick to that.
"We have to grab everyone and do the right things all the time. I think that should put us in a better spot."
The trade of O'Reilly's former teammate seems to put Buffalo in a worse spot. Duchene is a Canadian Olympian who should bolster Ottawa's offense. The top three teams in each division make the playoffs, and the Senators made Buffalo's road back toward the top of the Atlantic Division tougher.
The teams still have to play each other four times this season.
"Ottawa got a good player," O'Reilly said. "Dutchie is a guy that's tough to play against. He's a really skilled player, so it's a bummer that he's in the division. He's going to make it better.
"He needed a change of scenery. It should be a good fit for him. I just hope he doesn't play too well against us."
Story topics: Ryan O'Reilly