BUFFALO – Celebrations like the one the Sabres threw for Jason Pominville’s 1,000-game milestone often mean a long, distinguished career is entering its final stage.
These days, with 30 being considered old by NHL standards, very few players possess longevity like Pominville’s. Even fewer keep producing offense like they’re still in their mid-20s.
But right now, Pominville, a winger who has compiled 285 goals and 710 points over his NHL seasons, looks like he’s still in his prime. The former NHL All-Star turns 36 on Nov. 30.
How many players honored for an accomplishment like Pominville’s go out and score two goals, including the game winner, and three points like he did in Saturday’s afternoon’s 9-2 annihilation of the hapless Ottawa Senators?
Incredibly, Pominville might be enjoying the best run of his 14-year career. During his seven-game point streak beside linemates Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner, he has compiled seven goals and 13 points.
Since Sabres coach Phil Housley assembled the trio Oct. 20, Pominville is tied for the NHL lead in points with Skinner, who has eight goals and 13 points. Eichel, meanwhile, ranks third with 11 points.
Fans left the rink with some indelible memories, a rarity in recent seasons. Saturday was a special afternoon that won’t be forgotten in these parts for a long time.
The Sabres hit the nine-goal mark for the first time since a 10-2 win Jan. 27, 2009 in Edmonton. They hadn’t done it at home since beating Atlanta 10-1 on Jan. 18, 2008.
Throughout Saturday’s win, which snapped a three-game losing skid (0-1-2), most of the crowd of 17,881 loudly counted up the goals and demanded another.
The chant, a staple at the old Memorial Auditorium and in the post-lockout days at KeyBank Center, has rarely been heard since the Sabres plunged to the bottom of the NHL.
“I don’t know if it was us feeding off the ceremony and the atmosphere, (but) there was a buzz,” Pominville said. “It was definitely an enjoyable game for me and I’m happy to share it with this group and my family.”
Before the Sabres began shellacking the Senators, the team honored Pominville on the ice with his wife, children and parents in stirring a ceremony. Pominville hit the 1,000 game-mark Thursday in Ottawa.
“It’s tough not to (feel emotional) when you see the kids,” Pominville said.
After a video tribute, the crowd gave Pominville a rousing ovation. Before presenting him a silver sabre, owner Terry Pegula informed the crowd only two players from the 2001 NHL Draft – Ilya Kovalchuk and Jason Spezza – have scored more points.
“That’s pretty surreal to think back and see all the players that were drafted ahead of you and see where you sit,” Pominville said.
Some of Pominville’s teammates also skated out and presented him a painting. The Sabres also handed placards that read: “Welcome to Pominville: Population 1,000.”
During the game, old friends from earlier in Pominville’s career – Daniel Briere, Brian Campbell, Ryan Miller, Lindy Ruff, Drew Stafford and others – paid tribute to him with video messages.
“Kind of fortunate we had a lead and I was able to look up and hear most of them,” Pominville said. “Just a lot of people that meant a lot to me throughout my career and a lot of great players and a lot of great memories with all of them. Yeah, it was pretty emotional at times.”
Sabres winger Kyle Okposo said: “That’s one I know he’s going to cherish for a long time.”
The Sabres looked downright dominant at times against the Senators, who had just beaten them. In the 4-2 loss, the Sabres blitzed the Senators late and scored twice during the third period.
“I thought we picked up where we left off in the third period,” Housley said. “I thought when the puck dropped, the guys were ready to go. It was a great response from our group. …
“You can see it when the guys are focused and really ready to go, we’re a pretty good hockey team.”
Okposo opened the scoring at 5:04 before Skinner scored the first of his two goals at 6:28. Pominville’s first goal at 14:25 forced the Senators to pull goalie Craig Anderson after only 10 shots. His replacement, Mike McKenna, fared even worse.
Pominville scored again 7:06 into the second period. He narrowly missed completing hat trick later on beside the net.
In all, 15 Sabres recorded a point. Zemgus Girgensons, Conor Sheary, Patrik Berglund and Casey Mittelstadt scored the other goals. Eichel and Skinner also had three points.
“It was good to see other guys contribute tonight, even though the first line, Jack’s line, got three of the first four goals,” Housley said. “It was great to Okie get one, it was great to see Berglund and Girgensons and Mittelstadt.”