BUFFALO – Around this city and the Sabres, speedy Tyler Ennis is a star, the most dynamic offensive threat on a low-scoring team. Around the NHL, however, the winger is still a bit of an unknown.
Ennis’ name mostly pops up national circles when he scores a highlight-reel goal.
That could be starting to change.
One goal and five points during the three straight home wins just earned Ennis the NHL’s first star for the week ending Dec. 14.
Ennis, who has eight goals and a team-high 22 points, enjoyed one of the best weeks of his six-year career.
The 25-year-old scored the only goal in Tuesday’s win 1-0 against Los Angeles, had three assists in Thursday’s 4-3 win against Calgary and created Nikita Zadorov’s overtime winner in Saturday’s 4-3 win against Florida.
“What’s impressed me (from) the first day I got here is his ability, a highly skilled player in this league, and to watch it all come to fruition right now and watching all the things that he’s capable of doing with that puck, we’re just glad he’s on our side,” coach Ted Nolan said Monday prior to the Sabres’ 5-4 shootout win against the Ottawa Senators inside the First Niagara Center.
Nolan knows Ennis possesses rare talent.
“He’s just a very highly skilled player that can do some things at a high pace,” Nolan said. “We always talk about those players that can do things at a pace you can’t, and Tyler’s one of those players who can.
“His confidence is as good as his skill is right now, so you have confidence, you have skill. That’s a pretty good combination.”
Ennis’ confidence has soared playing on the right wing beside center Zemgus Girgensons and Matt Moulson, the Sabres’ No. 1 line the last month.
“I think it’s a nice honor,” Ennis said about the first star. “I think it has a lot to do with how the team’s playing. Zemgus and Matty are playing with me. I think if we’re not rolling, then I’m not rolling. We got a good thing going.”
Nolan added: “Girgensons is opening up some ice for him, Matty Moulson’s always a threat, so if you don’t pay attention to him, he’ll get the puck.”
Ennis, a natural left wing, played center for about a year before Nolan shifted him to the right side early last month.
“I’ve played every position up front since I’ve been in the league,” Ennis said. “I’m open to anything. But right now I’m most comfortable at the wing, and we’re having success at it. Wherever I fit in, I’m happy.”
Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter (five assists) and New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (3-0, 1.30 goals-against average, .951 save percentage) were the second and third stars.
When the Sabres began their skate Monday morning, instead of a having a fresh body on the ice up from Rochester, Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros, the two defensemen injured Saturday, were practicing fully.
Defenseman Tyson Strachan, out the last four games, was also skating. But Gorges, who is sporting a splint on his left pinky finger, was scratched. The 30-year-old was hurt blocking a shot in the Sabres’ 4-3 overtime win against Florida.
“I felt relatively good, good enough to play,” Gorges said Monday morning about his skate. “Now it’s a matter of making sure there’s doctor’s clearance and there’s no further damage.”
He added: “It’s not 100 percent.”
Meszaros, who took a puck to the chin, and Strachan (lower body) played.
Nolan said Gorges was “real close” to playing Monday.
To “spread out the wealth,” Nolan broke up the young duo of Zadorov and Rasmus Ristolainen. Zadorov skated beside Tyler Myers. Ristolainen went with Andre Benoit.
Nolan on how the Sabres have reacted to the mumps outbreak around the league: “It was on our radar. (Trainer Tim Macre) and our medical staff have done a great job. We’ve been washing our hands and doing all the things necessary before. We just took some shots the other day. We’re well-equipped, hopefully, to deal with it.”
The Sabres also scratched forward Cody McCormick (lower body) and defenseman Mike Weber (knee).