DENVER – Ryan O'Reilly found himself in a familiar building at the Buffalo Sabres' morning skate at Pepsi Center on Wednesday morning. Standing in Colorado's visiting dressing room afterward, however, was anything but.
"I've never been over here before so it's a different feel for me," O'Reilly said. "Even going on the ice, it's just weird being on the opposite end of everything. It'll be exciting tonight."
On Wednesday night, O'Reilly and Jamie McGinn will both play their first game against Colorado since being traded to the Sabres from the Avalanche in June. Buffalo is looking for its third win in a row and fifth in six games.
Coverage begins with Tops Sabres Gamenight at 9:30 p.m. on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
McGinn said Tuesday that he expects their return to energize the team just as it did when Evander Kane and Zach Bogosian played their first game back in Winnipeg on Jan. 10. Marcus Foligno, who scored the game-winner in that game against the Jets, echoed McGinn's comments on Wednesday.
"It's a special night," Foligno said. "It adds a little more spice on the table and we want to do the same thing we did for Zach and Evander … you already have a lot of motivation to win a game but it just adds to that."
Robin Lehner will start in net for the Sabres and Josh Gorges will return to the lineup after missing two games with an upper-body injury. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said that Jake McCabe will sit as a healthy scratch and that his defense's recent performance didn’t do him any favors in making that decision. Buffalo is coming off a 2-1 win at Arizona.
"I think pretty much to a man, [our defense] is playing some of their best hockey right now," Bylsma said. "So yes, [it was] a little bit of a difficult decision, but you get an opportunity to put Josh Gorges in, who probably leads our battle and compete level on our team, and get him back in the lineup tonight."
Gorges played in only 46 games due to injury last season, so he's not stranger to the feeling of having to watch from the sidelines. Even missing these last two games, he said, was difficult enough.
"Every time you're out of the lineup, it's miserable," the Sabres alternate captain said."We want to be in every game and every situation and help compete and playing and helping your team get wins so it's always tough being on the sidelines. But the guys did a great job the last few games."
The way the defense played in his absence at least made it a tad bit easier. Buffalo won both games and turned in what Bylsma said might've been its best defensive performance of the season in a win against Arizona on Monday night.
"I thought they played great," Gorges said. "Our goaltending was outstanding the last couple games, making the big saves when we need to, guys doing their jobs in front and making sure we weren’t giving up those second-chance opportunities.
"But even more so, I thought our forwards did a great job of coming back, putting pressure from behind, allowing us as D to hold our gaps and play aggressive."
With the success they've had over the past two games, Bylsma said that Zach Bogosian will remain on Buffalo's top defensive pair to the left of Rasmus Ristolainen. Gorges will play alongside Mark Pysyk, leaving Mike Weber and Cody Franson as the final pair.
9 Evander Kane – 90 Ryan O'Reilly – 23 Sam Reinhart
84 Philip Varone – 15 Jack Eichel – 88 Jamie McGinn
82 Marcus Foligno – 22 Johan Larsson – 12 Brian Gionta
26 Matt Moulson – 59 Tim Schaller – 17 David Legwand
47 Zach Bogosian – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
4 Josh Gorges – 3 Mark Pysyk
6 Mike Weber – 46 Cody Franson
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson