SAULT STE. MARIE, Ont. - Breathe easy, Sabres fans. A 3-2 shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at Essar Center on Wednesday night was followed with a bit of good news: Ryan O'Reilly's exit in the first period with a lower-body injury was simply precautionary, according to coach Dan Bylsma.
"He tweaked something in a muscle and we decided we weren't going to go any further with it," Bylsma said. "He came back out and gave it a try. We just said we didn't want to take any chances."
O'Reilly was making his preseason debut after playing seven games for Team Canada at the World Cup of Hockey. Those games gave him a head start in terms of playing fast-paced, meaningful hockey, but he didn't get the sort of minutes he'll get regularly with the Sabres. Readjusting to his normal workload was atop his priority list for the little time left in the preseason.
Buffalo has one preseason game remaining, on Friday in Ottawa.
Even aside from the O'Reilly injury, the first period was a struggle overall for the Sabres. They fell behind early in shots and ended the period trailing 1-0 thanks to a goal by Roland McKeown. Bylsma said an aggressive shift to open the second period in which Brian Gionta and Derek Grant delivered four hits set the tone for how they played the rest of the way.
The only goal the Sabres and goaltender Linus Ullmark allowed from that point on came after a failed clearing attempt gave Carolina possession on the power play, opening the door for Teuvo Teravainen to feed an open Elias Lindholm in the slot for a one-time chance.
Evander Kane scored on a breakaway 12 minutes into the second to cut the Sabres' deficit in half and former Sault Ste. Marie Greyhound Justin Bailey tied the game with a shorthanded goal in the third period.
Jeff Skinner scored the winning goal in the shootout on Carolina's third attempt after both teams were scoreless prior. Alexander Nylander, Kane and Matt Moulson shot for Buffalo.
Ullmark made 28 saves in his first start of the preseason.
"I liked my rebound control a lot and also my stick handling," he said. "I just felt like the puck was sticking to me the whole game. I felt big out there even though the first goal was short side."
The Sabres will return home to Buffalo for practice on Thursday and then finish their preseason the following night against the Senators in Ottawa. That game begins at 7:30 p.m. and can be heard live on WGR 550 with Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray on the call.
Another game, another point for Grant
Derek Grant scored his fifth point of the preseason with an assist on Kane's goal in the second period, this time with a perfect pass up the ice through the neutral zone to free Kane for his breakaway chance. The game was Grant's fifth in a row, a telling sign for a forward who came into camp having to battle for a spot on the NHL roster.
Not only has he consistently made an impact on the score sheet, he's been used in all situations: on the power play, the penalty kill and on key faceoffs , much like the way Bylsma used Ryan O'Reilly last season. He also blocked five shots, including a big one on a 4-on-3 penalty kill in overtime.
"You're trying to earn a spot on the team, you're trying to find a role as a player coming onto our team … you can clearly see where Derek Grant can be a factor for our team," Bylsma said. "You saw that on the penalty kill with the shot blocks."
Bailey, back in the Soo
Bailey scored 28 points (12+16) in 22 games as a Greyhound after a midseason trade brought him to Sault Ste. Marie in his final OHL season in 2014-15, so his game-tying goal came in familiar territory. But it was also significant given the fact that he was reassigned to training camp with the Amerks on Saturday.
He was given another opportunity when he was recalled to the Sabres for their back-to-back road trip, and he responded with a big goal.
"He was much like the rest of our team," Bylsma said. "He wasn't very good in the first period and he responded in the rest of the game. He got an opportunity there on the penalty kill and came up big with the shorthanded goal for us."