CHICAGO - It looks like Ryan O'Reilly will be back in the lineup for the Buffalo Sabres tonight after missing the past four games following a successful appendectomy. O'Reilly returned to practice yesterday and took the morning skate today with no setbacks to his condition.
Buffalo is set to take on the Chicago Blackhawks tonight at United Center. Faceoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can hear Dan Dunleavy and Rob Ray's call on WGR 550.
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"I feel l'm good and so does the staff. So it looks like I'm going to go in tonight," O'Reilly said. "I might not be used like I normally am. They said they're going to try to ease me back into it because I haven't had a ton of skates with the team, but I'm excited to get back playing tonight.
"It might not be the normal minutes I play, but still, just to be out there and contribute, it's going to be exciting."
And the Sabres will gladly welcome him back as well, even in a somewhat reduced role. O'Reilly is third among forwards in the league when it comes to ice time per game, skating an average of 21:31.
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma has said numerous times since the beginning of training camp that he'd like to reduce the minutes O'Reilly and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen play each night. Circumstances haven't allowed that to happen on a consistent basis, but O'Reilly's condition - and with him trying to get back to game speed after missing a week and a half - may force Bylsma's hand a bit.
"I talked about this in different situations before of limiting minutes and protecting him, but this will definitely be the case with Ryan in the lineup," Bylsma said.
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At practice yesterday, O'Reilly centered a line with Derek Grant and captain Brian Gionta on his wings. While O'Reilly said he should be fine taking draws, having Grant there provides some insurance.
"Last game with Grant being able to take draws for [Sam] Reinhart's line in the defensive zone, it would be a similar thing in this game. And try to get Ryan into positions he can success in and not overload him, overwork him too much," Bylsma said.
Keep it going
The Sabres are looking to build off the success they had on Tuesday against the New York Rangers on the road. They played one of their strongest defensive games and limited the offensive chances of one of the highest-scoring teams in the NHL.
"It was a good three-period effort from us. I thought we played a complete game," defenseman Zach Bogosian said. "It's something we can look back on and say that in order for us to win hockey games and be in it, that's the way we have to play."
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, have had their struggles recently. They've lost five of their last six games and are coming off a 4-1 loss to the Blues in the Winter Classic. But they're opening a four-game homestand and will have a healthy Marian Hossa back in the lineup. Corey Crawford will start in goal.
"Even with these last few games for them, they're going to be hungry. That's a really good team over there,"O'Reilly said. "I've played against them a lot and if you open it up and you give them any chances, they're going to make us pay. It's got to be a consistent game and we have to compete right from the get-go."
Nilsson starts again
Buffalo, meanwhile, will once again turn to Anders Nilsson in net. He made 24 saves in the win over New York.
Bylsma was asked how much of the goaltending decision is the product of Nilsson's last performance and how much of it depends on where Robin Lehner's health is.
"Both go into the decision, but Anders getting the win in New York and playing well, he's going to get the opportunity tonight here in Chicago," Bylsma said.
Lehner has taken a few maintenance days lately and saw a doctor for a potential neck injury sustained in Boston last week. However, Bylsma indiciated that Lehner is healthy enough to play if called upon,
"[It's the] same with a number of players [when it comes to battling injuries]. It's not something that's keeping him out of the lineup," Bylsma said. "He's had a few bumps and bruises the last few games he's played."
Josh Gorges took the morning skate, but it's unclear if he'll play. He missed the contest against the Rangers due to a hip injury sustained the game before. William Carrier will not play due to an illness. Stay with us on social media during pregame warmups for full lineup news.