BUFFALO – Earlier this season, as Sabres winger Tage Thompson struggled offensively, the thought of producing points consumed him.
“The first couple weeks, all I’m thinking about is I’m struggling to put up points,” said Thompson, who has scored three goals in the last four games entering tonight’s tilt against the San Jose Sharks.
Not surprisingly, Thompson’s entire game suffered. His confidence dipped. Following seven pointless outings, coach Phil Housley yanked him from the lineup.
“When you get thinking on that, then it takes away from other parts of your game and then I’m not doing anything to help the team then,” Thompson said inside KeyBank Center. “I’m turning pucks over and not playing both ends of the ice.”
Just weeks earlier, Thompson’s strong training camp had forced the Sabres to keep him.
“He won a spot on the team in training camp, that’s what we saw first, he really attacked the game, he was playing with emotion and passion,” Housley said.
The 6-foot-6, 205-pound Thompson said sitting out three straight contests and seven of nine allowed him to “take a step back and kind of regroup.” He spent extra time on the ice and in the video room dissecting his game with coaches.
“Anytime you take a step back it’s not a bad thing,” Housley said. “He took it the right way. He wanted to learn, he’s very coachable, he wants to get better.”
In his last eight games, Thompson, 21, has often looked like a slick power forward, compiling three goals and four points. His wicked one-timer from the left circle briefly put the Sabres up late in Saturday’s 3-2 win in Detroit. He later tied the shootout, keeping the Sabres alive against the Red Wings.
“I know I’m capable of playing that way,” said Thompson, who scored three goals in his first 54 NHL games. “That’s why it’s been so frustrating the first couple weeks when you’re not at the level you want to be in. I think I put too much pressure on myself at times.”
Housley said: “The last five games, you saw the player that was in training camp. Now he’s getting more minutes and now he’s getting more confidence. I just really like where he is in his development at this point.”
Sabres winger Kyle Okposo, who will skate on a line with Thompson tonight, said the youngster embraced the Sabres’ plan to help him improve.
“Now you see kind of it paying off,” Okposo said. “You see the confidence budding from him and he scores a big goal last game. Last couple games, not even the goals, if you watch some of the plays he makes in his own end, the confidence that he has breaking the puck out, making those little plays is very evident.”
Okposo remembers Thompson coming in the Islanders’ dressing room as a teenager years ago – “He was tall, for sure,” he joked – with his father, Brent, who was one of New York’s assistant coaches.
“Knowing his dad, there’s no way he’s not going to have a good attitude,” Okposo said.
He added: “I’m sure that his dad is still making sure that he has the right attitude.”