If the Buffalo Sabres aren't able to completely replace Ryan O'Reilly for their upcoming California road trip, perhaps they can at least replace him in name. With Ryan out 3-to-4 weeks with a lower-body injury, the team recalled older brother Cal from Rochester on Monday morning.
"It might've been the deciding factor," Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said, smiling.
Cal O'Reilly scored the game-winning goal for the Amerks in overtime against the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins on Sunday and ranks third on the team with 28 points (6+22) in 44 AHL games this season. He's played five games for the Sabres this season, tallying one assist while averaging 8:41 of ice time.
With O'Reilly, the Sabres will have 13 forwards for their three-game trip in California. While he might've preferred coming up under different circumstances, he's looking forward to the opportunity to contribute.
"Yeah, I mean it's too bad with my brother going down for who knows how long," O'Reilly said. "I don’t know the situation, but you've just got to be ready, get the opportunity to play some minutes and help and that’s all I'm going to try and do."
Other Sabres, meanwhile, are viewing the injury as an opportunity to try and step in for their alternate captain. They're big shoes to fill – Ryan O'Reilly leads the League in faceoffs won and average ice time among forwards, in addition to leading the Sabres with 49 points.
"It's tough to replace him because you can't replace him," said Sam Reinhart, O'Reilly's linemate on the wing for most of the season. "It's not going to be one or two guys; it's got to be everyone. I think guys are kind of prepared to try and do that and it's going to be a team effort for sure."
Reinhart shouldered the responsibility of filling in as top-line center against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday. He and the Sabres' other centermen are faced with the task of replacing O'Reilly in the faceoff circle after winning only 42 percent of their draws on Sunday.
"A lot of [winning] faceoffs is just repetition," Reinhart said. "It has been a while in a game situation since I've been taking draws like this so I think that's something that game in and game out I'll be getting better and better at and getting used to."
Buffalo begins its road trip on Wednesday against the Ducks in Anaheim. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. with Tops Sabres Gamenight on MSG-B and Bell TV. The game can also be heard live on WGR 550.
Evander Kane, Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges and David Legwand were all absent from practice on Monday for maintenance days. Bylsma also announced that defenseman Cody Franson, who missed Sunday's game with an injury to his head and neck, is still recovering, but will travel with the team to Anaheim.
BAILEY'S MOTOR NEVER STOPS
Bylsma has spoken highly of Justin Bailey's combination of speed and size several times already this season. What's equally impressive, however, is the consistency with which Bailey brings that speed on the ice.
"I think the speed and the energy of which he's brought to our team is evident," Bylsma said. "Even in today's practice they were doing some 1-on-1 drills and doing some speed drills. The defensemen didn’t want to go against Justin with his speed. He brings it and I think he brings it every time he steps out on the ice."
Bylsma went on to describe one play in particular from the first period of Buffalo's game on Sunday. Bailey carried the puck up the right-wing side, tapped it off the boards on the entry, got behind the defense and was able to get to the puck in time to create a scoring chance for Evander Kane in the slot.
That play stood out the most given the fact that Kane nearly scored, but Bailey made similar plays throughout the game – including twice on the same shift in the third. The speed is evident, and it looks like the rookie has the energy to bring it often.
With the Trade Deadline now exactly one week away (at 3 p.m. on Feb. 29), Bylsma didn’t deny the fact that it might be on the minds of some players as they make their way through California. In fact, he said, the feeling the team has right now is a pretty familiar one.
"I don’t think there's a team that I've been with either playing or coaching that you didn’t have it in the back of your mind," Bylsma said. "I don’t think we're any different. It's there. You're wondering what's going to happen around the League, you're wondering what's going to happen with our team. That's kind of par for the course when you're in the National Hockey league."
Players with expiring contracts are always the subject of trade chatter this time of year, and one player who fits that bill this season is forward Jamie McGinn. He spoke Monday on the importance of blocking out that talk and not letting the business side of the game affect the on-ice side.
"I've said this before, I'm not going to think about it," he said. "I'm just playing hockey. It's a big three games for us and that's all I'm focused on. Whatever happens happens. Hockey's a business. Sometimes you don’t like it, things happen, but I’m happy where I am right now and worried about these three games. They're big games for us and we need to come out with points every game."