BUFFALO – Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian’s ninth NHL season has become perhaps his worst.
While the Massena native still plays just over 20 minutes a game, he believes his role has diminished a bit. He no longer plays on the power play regularly. With only one goal and nine points in 49 games, he could set new offensive lows.
Bogosian, by the way, will miss the postseason again. Saturday’s 5-2 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs at KeyBank Center was his 527th NHL appearance. He has never played in a playoff game.
“It’s never fun when you’re out of the playoffs,” Bogosian said prior to the game. “It’s never fun when you’re not having your greatest year. I don’t know if I get frustrated. It’s definitely disappointing.
“I’ve definitely had a little bit of a different role this year than I’ve been used to. That’s something you really can’t pinpoint one thing or another. It just seemed to be the way things were going this year. I’m just trying to finish strong here.”
Bogosian, 26, has an opportunity to finish on a high note. With top defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen suspended for the next three games and the blue line banged up, Bogosian should receive some heavy action.
After Ristolainen got ejected from Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to Pittsburgh, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma turned to Bogosian, skating him a career-high 33 minutes, 29 seconds.
“He stepped into 33 minutes, which is a ton for anybody,” Bylsma said. “You can expect him to see his minutes in the next three games with Rasmus out.”
Bogosian has skated more than 20 minutes per game every season since 2009-10, his second NHL campaign. He usually averages around 22 or 23 minutes per outing a season. He averaged 22:21 last season and a whopping 26:34 in 21 contests after the Sabres acquired him from Winnipeg in 2014-15.
Bylsma said other than Ristolainen, his defensemen have all played about the same amount.
“Zach hasn’t gotten the power play time that he got at the end of the year last year,” he said. “But minus that, his role continues to be a guy who we need to play good defense, shut down maybe not the top-pairing guys but the second-pairing guys.”
Still, to Bogosian, who had skated under 20 minutes in 15 of the last 20 games entering Saturday, his role is “tough.” He played 21:24 against the Leafs.
“You’re used to playing a lot of minutes your entire career,” he said. “When things get cut down a little bit, it’s tough when you’re not put in situations where you’re used to being in.”
Bogosian said he has “always felt comfortable playing a lot of minutes.” Playing so much – he had 38 shifts in a 60-minute game Tuesday – allows the former third overall pick to find a groove.
“Mentally and physically you’re engaged,” Bogosian said. “There seems to be no hesitation when you play that much. A lot of people would argue you get overwhelmed with a lot of things, but … you just try to go out there and just play. The flow of the game, you’re always going over the boards.”
For the second time in six days, the Sabres recalled Brady Austin from the Rochester Americans. Days ago, the defenseman was an unknown prospect, a former seventh-round pick 200 games into his pro career.
But two games into his NHL career, Austin, 23, has already turned some heads, utilizing his 6-foot-4, 230-pound body while showcasing notable speed for a big man.
That’s why the Sabres summoned him again Saturday morning.
“Stepping into Detroit (on Monday) and playing the way he did there, you really wanted to see what he could do there, his size,” Bylsma said. “He’s got the ability to play a tougher game, a physical game and stepped right in in Detroit.
“I think the way he played that game was a surprise. He was big, strong, physical. … It’s been a long opportunity coming, it’s been three years in our organization. He finally gets a couple games here to show what he could do.”
The blue line looked different Saturday, with Justin Falk (bruise) and Dmitry Kulikov (upper body) returning. Ristolainen missed his first game.
Sabres wingers William Carrier (bone bruise) and Kyle Okposo (ribs) also returned.
Notes: The Sabres sent rookie winger Hudson Fasching to the Amerks before the game. … Kulikov played his 500th NHL game. “I thought I was about 10, 15 away from 500,” he said. “Good surprise.”… Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly hit the 50-point mark Saturday for the fourth straight season and the fifth time in his career.