BUFFALO – Sabres center Derek Grant thought he had finally scored that elusive first NHL goal Jan. 17 in Vancouver, his hometown.
Scoring opportunities have been scarce for Grant, but a golden one materialized with a loose puck in the crease against the Canucks, one of six games he played with the Nashville Predators.
Grant furiously whacked away at the puck as goalie Ryan Miller tried to cover it up. He eventually put it in before the whistle blew. The referee quickly – and emphatically – signaled a goal.
Naturally, Grant, who was playing his 78th NHL contest, couldn’t stop smiling.
“It was pretty exciting in my hometown, so it was extra special,” Grant said Thursday morning after the Sabres, who reclaimed him Monday, recalled him from the AHL.
But Grant’s excitement was short-lived. Miller argued he had the puck covered up. A lengthy review followed.
“You’re just kind of sitting there waiting and waiting,” Grant said. “It was a longer review. The longer it goes on, the more you start doubting it.”
Officials disallowed the goal because the referee, who was watching the play unfold directly behind the net, had the intent to blow the whistle.
Grant, 26, is still searching for his first NHL goal.
“A lot of people thought it was a good goal,” he said. “That’s the way it goes sometimes.”
In Thursday’s 5-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks at KeyBank Center, Grant played his 82nd NHL game, the equivalent of a full season. He has seven assists.
Still, despite his goal-scoring woes, Grant has been in demand lately. The Predators grabbed him off waivers from the Sabres on Jan. 11.
When they waived him Sunday, the Sabres, who had first dibs, claimed him and sent him to the Rochester Americans.
“Things happen fast,” Grant said. “I’m just excited to be back.”
The Sabres recalled Grant and center Evan Rodrigues because winger Evander Kane was questionable with a hand injury and center Zemgus Girgensons missed the game with a mid-body injury after taking some big hits this past week. Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said the Latvian is day-to-day.
Grant skated as the fourth-line center again Thursday. Nick Deslauriers and Matt Moulson flanked him. Grant also killed penalties and took faceoffs.
The last month, Grant said, has been “crazy.” He practiced one day in Rochester before getting summoned.
“Luckily, I knew a couple of guys (in Nashville),” he said. “Coming back here, it’s a little easier because you’re familiar with the guys, the coaches, the assistants.”
Of course, the flip side of moving around so much is being wanted.
“Getting put on waivers (stinks),” Grant said. “When you get claimed, it’s a good feeling in the sense that I know I’m an NHL player and obviously someone else felt that.”
Sooner or later, Grant, an elite AHL scorer, should score a goal. He had 27 goals in 36 games last year with the Stockton Heat, the Calgary Flames’ affiliate.
“You go from being able to do that on a pretty consistent basis last year to this year they’re just not going in, chances,” he said. “That’s something I try not to think about too much.”
Kane joked he crashed into his “favorite wall” after scoring the overtime winner in Tuesday’s 5-4 thriller against San Jose.
After his 16th goal secured the Sabres’ most unlikely victory this season, Kane hit the boards hard behind the net, his face and his right hand taking most of the impact.
Kane also broke four ribs crashing into those same boards opening night.
His hand, which was wrapped after Tuesday’s game, is still bothering him. He put it behind his back Thursday morning during his chat with reporters.
Still, Kane played against the Ducks. That meant Rodrigues was scratched.
“It’s an important time of the season and I felt maybe better than I thought I would this morning,” he said.
Rodrigues, 23, played two games with the Sabres in mid-November. The second-year pro scored two goals in his last AHL outing Saturday.
Overall, Rodrigues has nine goals and 27 points in 43 AHL games this season, his first playing center regularly.
“My confidence has grown knowing I have the ability to play in different positions, to play in different situations,” Rodrigues said.
The Sabres made one change on defense, inserting Justin Falk for Taylor Fedun.