BUFFALO – Sabres center Derek Grant thought he had finally scored that elusive first NHL goal Jan. 17 in Vancouver, his hometown.
Scoring opportunities have been scarce for Grant, but a golden one materialized with a loose puck in the crease against the Canucks, one of six games he played with the Nashville Predators.
Grant furiously whacked away at the puck as goalie Ryan Miller tried to cover it up. He eventually put it in before the whistle blew. The referee quickly – and emphatically – signaled a goal.
Naturally, Grant, who was playing his 78th NHL contest, couldn’t stop smiling.
“It was pretty exciting in my hometown, so it was extra special,” Grant said this morning after the Sabres, who reclaimed him Monday, recalled him from the AHL.
But Grant’s excitement was short-lived. Miller argued he had the puck covered up. A lengthy review followed.
“You’re just kind of sitting there waiting and waiting,” Grant said. “It was a longer review. The longer it goes on, the more you start doubting it.”
Officials disallowed the goal because the referee, who was watching the play unfold directly behind the net, had the intent to blow the whistle.
Grant, 26, is still searching for his first NHL goal.
“A lot of people thought it was a good goal,” he said. “That’s the way it goes sometimes.”
Tonight against the Anaheim Ducks at KeyBank Center, Grant should play his 82nd NHL game, the equivalent of a full season. He has seven assists.
Still, despite his goal-scoring woes, Grant has been in demand lately. The Predators grabbed him off waivers from the Sabres on Jan. 11.
When they waived him Sunday, the Sabres, who had first dibs, claimed him and sent him to the Rochester Americans.
“Things happen fast,” Grant said. “I’m just excited to be back.”
The Sabres recalled Grant and center Evan Rodrigues because winger Evander Kane is questionable for tonight’s game with a hand injury and center Zemgus Girgensons is out after enduring some big hits this past week.
Grant will likely be the Sabres’ fourth-line center, his position all season, again tonight. He skated between Nick Deslauriers and Matt Moulson this morning. Also expect Grant to kill penalties and take faceoffs.
The Sabres have recently been using Deslauriers sparingly as the No. 4 center and moving his wingers up to scoring lines for more ice time.
The last month, Grant said, has been “crazy.” He practiced one day in Rochester before getting summoned.
“Luckily, I knew a couple of guys (in Nashville),” he said. “Coming back here, it’s a little easier because you’re familiar with the guys, the coaches, the assistants.”
Of course, the flip side of moving around so much is being wanted.
“Getting put on waivers sucks,” Grant said. “When you get claimed, it’s a good feeling in the sense that I know I’m an NHL player and obviously someone else felt that.”
Sooner or later, Grant, an elite AHL scorer, should score a goal. He had 27 goals in 36 games last year with the Stockton Heat, the Calgary Flames’ affiliate.
“You go from being able to do that on a pretty consistent basis last year to this year they’re just not going in, chances,” he said. “That’s something I try not to think about too much.”