ST. LOUIS – There was lots of talk about life on the other side Thursday in Enterprise Center as the Buffalo Sabres and St. Louis Blues got back into gameday mode after the Christmas break.
The teams meet in an 8 p.m. Eastern start that will feature former Sabres stalwart Ryan O'Reilly playing for the Blues and former St. Louis players Carter Hutton and Tage Thompson in the lineup for the Sabres.
O'Reilly, who leads the Blues in goals (13) and points (32), said he's been impressed with the rise of the Sabres.
"You look at the talent they have, the pieces they've added and they've deserved it," he said. "I've watched a few of their games and they're playing good hockey. I've still got a lot friends over there so it's nice to see. I just hope tonight they don't look that good."
O'Reilly was traded on July 1 after insisting he did not want to be moved. His infamous locker cleanout day interview where he said he had lost his passion for the game in the wake of the Sabres' 31st-place finish was apparently a tipping point for GM Jason Botterill, but O'Reilly said he's not upset with the deal.
"After that season, a rough season like that, you expect things are going to happen," he said. "At the time, you want to be there, be part of the solution. But I'm not upset with the way things happened. I like it here. ...I think we can do great things here. I still wish Buffalo the best.
"It was a good experience. It's a great town. I'm definitely a Bills fan, that's for sure. It was a good place to play hockey. It was a great experience and have some great friends. I didn't know much about it coming in. I was really shocked at how great it was and what a hockey town it was. The results weren't there that we wanted but it was still a great experience."
Hutton's career started to blossom in St. Louis before he moved to Buffalo in free agency and Thompson was a first-round draft pick of the team who was included in the O'Reilly deal. Both had high praise for the organization.
"I loved it here. There were some ups and downs but it was an amazing city," Hutton said. "People were great. Our son was born here so it's something that will always be close to us. Moving forward, we still have a great relationship and keep in touch with a lot of guys. It felt like home when we were here but you move on and it's tough. ... I thought it was time for the next step to give myself a chance to play some more minutes."
Said Thompson: "It's exciting to be back. It was a very special feeling getting drafted here and getting an opportunity with St. Louis to make my dream come true of playing in the NHL. I have them to thank for that. It will be fun getting back out there playing against some old familiar faces."
Hutton said he doesn't feel there's any advantage to knowing the Blues' shooters.
"You start overthinking stuff, these guys are too good," he said. "For me, I'll just try to play the shot. You start thinking what they're gonna do and they've got guys over there who are too good. If you try to cheat, they'll make you look stupid."
Also in tonight's lineups, ex-Buffalo players Jordan Nolan and Chris Butler will suit up for the Blues and former St. Louis center Vladimir Sobotka will be in the middle of the third line for the Sabres. Former St. Louis center Patrik Berglund, also acquired in the O'Reilly trade, is no longer on the Sabres roster after his contract was terminated when he went AWOL on the club earlier this month.