BUFFALO – Sabres winger Zemgus Girgensons played 301 NHL games over nearly four and a half seasons before experiencing his first benching.
Naturally, sitting twice as a healthy scratch last week felt unusual for Girgensons, who has zero goals in his last 20 outings.
“I’ve been there injured, but it was definitely different being scratched, not a good feeling,” Girgensons said this morning. “It makes you feel a little bit useless, you always want to be out there. It’s a good learning curve never wanting to back there.”
Girgensons, 23, impressed Sabres coach Phil Housley enough in his return, Sunday’s 3-2 overtime loss in St. Louis, to earn a promotion to left wing beside center Ryan O’Reilly and Kyle Okposo for tonight’s tilt against the Ottawa Senators.
“He was just tenacious on the forecheck, really physical, demanding the puck, making the right decisions in the neutral zone and just brought a really good energy to our team,” Housley said of Girgensons’ performance Sunday. “He’s got to continue to do that, he can be a force out there when he’s skating and being physical. I like that he’s getting to the net hard right now, he’s tough to play against.”
What was Housley’s message to Girgensons after getting scratched?
“Just (my) all-around (game), more physical, more a shot mentality,” the Latvian said. “I definitely have not been getting enough pucks to the net.”
Girgensons said he wants to do the “dirty work” for his linemates and “make their life easy.”
“I’m the working guy trying to outwork, get the loose pucks, get it to them,” he said.
The Sabres, who have a three-game point streak (1-0-2) for the first time all season, showcased other new lines this morning inside KeyBank Center.
The trios from left to right:
– Benoit Pouliot, Jack Eichel and Jason Pominville
– Evander Kane, Evan Rodrigues and Sam Reinhart
– Scott Wilson, Johan Larsson and Jordan Nolan
Nolan, a scratch last game, will move in for rookie winger Hudson Fasching, who has zero points in four games.
Kane, the Sabres’ leader scorer with 13 goals and 27 points, has scored only once the last nine contests, although he he has seven points in that span.
“I really like the way he brings speed, he’s really hard on the forecheck,” Housley said. “I just think defensively (he needs) just a little bit more awareness and paying attention to that detail of his game, because when he does it, we seem to come out of our end clean, and now he can get on the forecheck, where he’s really at his strength.
“I really like his shot mentality. There’s a lot of guys I wish had more of it, that he’s just throwing pucks to the net. It just creates offense, it changes defenses.”
Kane has pumped a team-high 130 shots on goal this season.
Sabres goalie Robin Lehner will start tonight, his fourth straight nod and 24th appearance overall.
While Nathan Beaulieu is practicing again after the flu sidelined him, Housley said the defenseman’s still day-to-day. Victor Antipin will be other defenseman out tonight.
Meanwhile, the Senators have imploded, losing four straight games (0-3-1) and 11 of their last 12 (1-9-2).
Remember, the Senators came within a goal of reaching the Stanley Cup final last season.
“When you look at the situation they’re in, they’re going to try to use this game to springboard their season, and we have to acknowledge that,” Housley said. “We have to keep playing the way we’ve been playing the last three games. We should be the desperate team. We’ve got to be better at home here.”
The Senators conclude a seven-game road trip tonight that started Nov. 29 in Montreal and also hit Winnipeg and California.
Incredibly, the Senators host the New York Rangers on Wednesday.