Blues, O'Reilly brace for Sabres

December 27, 2018

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues return from the Christmas break winners of four of their last six games.

It is finally some traction for a team still seven points out of a playoff spot as the season nears the midway point.

The Blues (14-16-4) hope to keep that momentum as they resume play by hosting the Buffalo Sabres (21-11-5) on Thursday night at Enterprise Center.

The game will be the first for Blues center Ryan O'Reilly against his former club since a trade brought him to St. Louis over the summer. O'Reilly's 13 goals and 32 points lead the team.

"We were in so many of these games, had leads and lost them," O'Reilly said last month according to "We didn't have the consistency in games. Bad period here, blow a lead, couple bad shifts there. It wasn't the hockey we needed to win."

Forwards Ivan Barbashev and Oskar Sundqvist will also look to continue their strong play on the Blues' fourth line. Either Barbashev or Sundqvist have scored in five of the last nine games for St. Louis.

"We pop Barbashev and Sundqvist up and down the lineup a little bit in different matchups and things, penalty killing," Blues interim coach Craig Berube told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "They've done a really good job. They're scoring goals here and there, which is good. You need everybody to chip in in the goal department."

The duo has been productive despite limited minutes. Barbashev averages 11 minutes, 19 seconds of ice time, which ranks 21st on the team. Sundqvist is at 11:10, ranking 22nd.

"Every single (shift) we just try to play really good defensively but at the same time we want to play in the (offensive) zone," Barbashev told the Post-Dispatch. "Just play a simple game, you know. Keep the puck. Get some energy. Sometimes maybe even try and score a goal."

The Blues have dominated the Sabres for the better part of two decades. Since 1999, St. Louis has a 17-3-4 record against Buffalo, including 9-1-2 in the last 12 meetings.

The Sabres haven't beaten the Blues in St. Louis since Dec. 27, 2009.

Perhaps the key to the Sabres' success would be extending the game. More than one-third of the team's games have gone to overtime or a shootout and Buffalo has an 8-5 record in those situations.

"I love overtime. I'm always looking to score," Sabres defenseman Ramsus Ristolainen told "There's a lot of room and you have a chance to make big plays for your team."

The Sabres entered the break off of a 3-0 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday.

Left winger Jeff Skinner scored his team-leading 26th goal of the season and Linus Ullmark made 40 saves to earn the shutout.

"It's an emotional game," Skinner told "Some games that's just the way it goes. A little bit of a feisty game, I guess, at the end of some of the periods but I thought we did a good job sticking together."