BUFFALO – Jason Pominville understands why he is sitting out. Having played 1,052 NHL games, the Sabres know what the veteran winger offers them.
Nine contests remain in a miserable season. The Sabres, who have fallen from first overall to sixth in the Atlantic Division, want to evaluate other players.
So the Sabres scratched Pominville, 36, for the second straight game Wednesday.
“It’s just the situation we’re at,” Pominville said prior to the 4-2 loss to the Maple Leafs inside KeyBank Center. “Trying to see what we have, I guess, and giving opportunities to guys, which is understandable for the position we’re in. It sucks being the guy that has to sit out but I get that part a little bit, where they know what I can bring. They know what I can do for the team, but they have to figure out what other guys can bring.
“That’s part of the game. I’m not going around high-fiving people because I’m not playing. You want to play. I get the business side of it, for sure.”
Coach Phil Housley said the Sabres are “giving guys opportunities” – he mentioned young forwards Casey Mittelstadt, Alexander Nylander and Tage Thompson – over the final weeks.
“Alex Nylander comes in and he’s getting some really good looks playing with (Evan Rodrigues) and (Conor) Sheary,” Housley said. “Tage has been a consistent forward with us. Mittelstadt has had a lot of games. That’s part of their development.”
Sitting out, of course, is unusual for Pominville. Wednesday marked the third time he has been scratched this season. When Housley sat him Jan. 30 in Dallas, it was the first time he had been a healthy scratch with the Sabres since 2005-06, his rookie year.
“It’s always difficult to sit out any player as a coach, but we have to make tough decisions,” Housley said. “We hadn’t gotten any results and we finally win a game, so we’re sticking with the same players.
“Jason’s been a great teammate (and) somebody that represents the Buffalo Sabres in all facets.”
At an age when most players have left the NHL, the likable Pominville, the Sabres’ oldest player, has been a notable contributor this season.
Pominville has scored 15 goals and 28 points in 65 games this season while moving up and down the lineup.
That versatility – Pominville has spent some of the season skating beside top center Jack Eichel – has made him an asset for Housley.
“It’s something they probably were hoping and expected,” Pominville said of his ability to move around the lineup. “I fit in with Eichs when I was with Eichs. I fit in with (Johan Larsson) when I was with Larry. I’ve played on (the) PP a little bit. Net-front, where I’ve never really been … I thought I fit in nicely there.
“It’s definitely nice to have that in your back pocket, for sure. But you always want to be a guy who contributes.”
Only three other NHL players 36 or older – Justin Williams, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton – have scored at least 15 goals this season.
Pominville ranks fourth on the Sabres in goal scoring, trailing only Eichel, Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart. Pominville has a six-game point streak against the Leafs and more points versus them (57 in 64 games) than any other opponent in his career.
Housley inserted winger Vladimir Sobotka for Pominville prior to Sunday afternoon’s 4-3 shootout win over the St. Louis Blues.
Notes: The Sabres also scratched defenseman Matt Hunwick and winger Scott Wilson (both healthy). … The Leafs scratched former Sabres winger Tyler Ennis (healthy). … Former Sabres co-captain Chris Drury has been named general manager for Team USA’s entry at the upcoming World Championship. Drury is an assistant GM with the New York Rangers.