BUFFALO, N.Y. • Ryan O’Reilly, back in Buffalo, on St. Patrick’s Day. What could be more natural?
So there was O’Reilly, up third for the Blues in the shootout, needing to score on Sabres goalie Carter Hutton to extend the game, the crowd booing ferociously.
“I love it,” O’Reilly said. “I love that pressure. It’s one of those moments you live for. It’s exciting.
“I came out on the wrong end of it.”
O’Reilly missed his shootout attempt, putting his backhand shot off the bar and out as the Blues fell to Buffalo 4-3 Sunday at KeyBank Center on the shores of Lake Erie. It completed an odd trip in which the Blues got three out of six possible points, beating Pittsburgh, the best team the Blues faced, but getting only one point in games with Ottawa and Buffalo, two teams that are out of the playoff race and should have been easiest to beat. The point did allow the Blues to hang on to third place in the Central Division but kept them from gaining more ground in the race.
“It’s disappointing,” O’Reilly said. “We didn’t play a very good game. It was not our best effort. It’s just weird. We weren’t clean with the way we move the puck usually.
“It’s just tough. It’s an issue. When you play teams that are out of it, you can tell they’re playing so loose, they’re taking risks, trying one-on-ones. It’s a different game, different compared to the other teams gearing up for the playoffs. We’ve got to find ourselves early in this game and get to it. We gave them too much too early.”
The Blues’ offense has begun to show life again now that David Perron is back — Perron scored a goal, extending his point streak to 15 games — but the defense, which has been pretty solid over the past two weeks, let them down. Some of the defensive problems originated with the offense being unable to hang on to the puck the way they had against the Penguins on Saturday. With the loss, the Blues are 1-2-2 in their past five, and now they wait to see if they get Vladimir Tarasenko back as hoped Tuesday, which would put them at 100 percent on offense for the first time since January.
It figured to be an emotional day for O’Reilly in his first game back in Buffalo since being traded to the Blues in the offseason. Sixty-five seconds into the game, at the first stoppage, there was a brief PA announcement welcoming O’Reilly back to Buffalo, a nice round of applause and a small wave from the center as he leaned over the boards not long after his first shift had ended.
Though O’Reilly missed the shootout attempt that would have tied it, he did have an assist on the goal that got the Blues the point they earned. The Blues went into the third trailing 3-2 but tied the score with 12:19 to go on a wraparound goal by Brayden Schenn in a four-on-four situation. O’Reilly skated the puck out from behind the goal line and took a close shot that Hutton stopped but couldn’t control the rebound on. Hutton was on his stomach as O’Reilly went flying over him, and meanwhile, Schenn got the puck and tucked in a quick wraparound before Hutton could recover. The Sabres challenged for goalie interference but the review didn’t take long, the goal stood, and the score was tied.
That kept the day from being a total disaster.
“It’s tough, coming back, playing your former team,” said Pat Maroon, who scored in his second straight game to tie it at 1-1 in the first. “He missed that shootout goal — I wish he would have got that — but he did a good job coming back. He played here three years. It’s tough coming back, tough to play in front of friends you molded with and had a team bond with.”
“It’s one of those games, we weren’t very clean all game,” coach Craig Berube said. “It was a tough grind. We didn’t execute very well. Give them credit. … Our puck play wasn’t good. Turned a lot of pucks over. They had the puck more than us.”
Which was not what they did in beating Pittsburgh on Saturday.
“We’ve got to do a better job against teams that are below us in the standings, that’s for sure,” Berube said. “It’s not been good enough.”
Though the Blues got three of six points on the trip, they know they left something behind.
“I would say it was a bad trip, for sure,” O’Reilly said. “Look at who we’re playing. Being a mature team, with opportunities to gain ground, catch teams ahead of us, we didn’t play our best hockey against these teams. It’s a disappointing situation. We have to respond and get back going again.”
“We had good efforts (against Ottawa and Buffalo), it just wasn’t 60 minutes,” Schenn said. “We’ve got to play a hard, full 60 minutes. We cranked it up in the third, but at the end of the day, it’s not enough. We’ve got to come out harder against those teams, not ease our way into it.”
“You always say .500 on the road, you’re happy with it,” Berube said. “Losing to Ottawa, that’s a game we’ve got to have. We didn’t get that one.
“Tonight wasn’t a clean game. You’re going to have some of those. We grinded a point out of it, which is good.”
Which is the one redeeming thing from Sunday.
The Blues got a point that kept them in third.