BUFFALO – Despite sitting out the last two games as a healthy scratch, Sabres defenseman Nathan Beaulieu will return tonight possessing plenty of confidence.
Beaulieu, 25, began generating offense before leaving the lineup, scoring his second goal this season before his first two-assist effort with the Sabres. The former first-round pick was also playing beside rookie Rasmus Dahlin, the first overall pick.
But after winning four straight games with Beaulieu, Sabres coach Phil Housley swapped him and defenseman Casey Nelson for Saturday’s 3-2 road victory against the Minnesota Wild.
Beaulieu will play tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers inside KeyBank Center because defenseman Marco Scandella is day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
“It’s tough,” Beaulieu said of sitting out. “Obviously, going in and helping the team win was a huge boost for me. I like where my game’s at, I feel like it’s been trending the right way, so I guess it shouldn’t be very hard for me to find confidence.
“If this is the way it’s going to go, I just got to play with everything I’ve got. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.”
It likely happened because Housley’s seven defensemen have played well this season. Someone must be the odd man out.
“We got to try to keep everyone active,” Housley said. “You don’t want to leave guys out too long.”
Beaulieu should take solace in that getting scratched probably wasn’t related to his play. Very quietly, he has recovered from a disastrous 2017-18 and started showcasing a calmer game.
His offense has also materialized in recent outings. He scored Nov. 10, connecting on winger Kyle Okposo’s feed at the net in a 4-3 shootout victory against the Vancouver Canucks. He assisted on both goals Nov. 13 in a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“The tides are going to turn for me eventually,” Beaulieu said last week. “I’ve been playing some pretty good hockey. Yeah, I can definitely say I feel back to myself.”
Beaulieu has compiled two goals, four points and a plus-6 rating in 12 appearances. Last season, his numbers – one goal, nine points and a minus-16 rating in 59 games – were downright awful.
As Beaulieu develops more confidence, his offense could increase. He scored a career-high 29 points with the Montreal Canadiens in 2016-17.
“It’s going to take a process,” Beaulieu said last week of reaching his old level offensively. “Obviously, last year was a big damper on it and my confidence. Getting on the board now, it’s nice to see. I’m just going to try to ride it, it’s only been a couple games now. I’m starting to see things, things are opening up for me.”
Naturally, playing beside Dahlin, 18, helped Beaulieu, who said they think the game similarly.
“Both of us being offensive-minded guys, I think he’s brought that out of me, something I’ve been trying to work toward but I didn’t really find last year,” Beaulieu said.
Being partnered with someone so young was “definitely weird for me,” Beaulieu said.
“The biggest thing is you got to remember he’s an 18-year-old kid and mistakes are going to happen,” said Beaulieu, who has played 296 NHL games. “So I think he feels more comfortable playing with me as well knowing that I’m out there, I’m going to protect him. … We just found an early chemistry.”