Tage Thompson left Thursday’s game late. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Injured Sabres center Tage Thompson ‘possibility’ to play against Canucks

BUFFALO – In the past, coach Don Granato said, the Sabres have experienced similar situations in which they wondered if center Tage Thompson would be able to play.

“You don’t know and, boom, he’s ready to go,” Granato said of other injuries Thompson has endured. “So he’s ultra-competitive. He’s played lots of games not at 100 percent and below.”

Granato there’s a “possibility” Thompson, 26, can play in this afternoon’s game against the Vancouver Canucks at KeyBank Center. He was undergoing imaging Friday and missed practice.

The Sabres, who must rattle off some wins to get in the playoff chase, sorely need Thompson’s offense.

He scored two early goals in Thursday’s 5-3 win over the Ottawa Senators, including a much-needed power-play tally, before leaving the game late after suffering an undisclosed injury.

Following an underwhelming start this season, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Thompson has recently morphed into a lethal scoring threat again, recording seven goals and 12 points in his last nine outings.

A few things have contributed to his hot streak, most notably the removal of a brace he wore after returning from a broken left hand Dec. 5.

“You have the broken hand, you come back and you have restricted puck handling and shot and everything else,” Granato said following Friday’s practice. “And then you finally get the brace off a couple weeks later, then you got to get back to it. So, yeah, I think that’s a big part of it.”

Granato also said Thompson and his regular wingers, Jeff Skinner and Alex Tuch, recently found a rhythm. All three players have missed time with injuries this season – right now, Skinner is sidelined again – so they went more than a month without playing together.

“Now, (Thompson) looks like he’s hit his stride, he looks a lot more comfortable,” Granato said.

Overall this season, Thompson has compiled 14 goals, 27 points and a minus-7 rating in 32 games. A year ago on this date during his breakout 47-goal, 94-point campaign, he had registered 31 goals, 58 points and a plus-14 rating in 41 outings.

He had recorded 14 power-play goals halfway through last season. Thursday’s power-play score was just his third this season.

The Sabres, of course, have struggled on the power play, converting at just 14.2 percent.

“If we can get the power play going where it should be, that should help significantly,” Granato said. “But him scoring on the power play is big. It’s a good feeling for him, good feeling for everybody.”

Granato made a surprising move Thursday by shifting winger Jordan Greenway to center to replace Casey Mittelstadt, who took Skinner’s place alongside Thompson and Tuch.

The 6-foot-6, 231-pound Greenway said he played center in 2017-18, his junior season at Boston University.

“I loved it,” he said. “It was great for me. … I haven’t done it in a couple years now, but it’s relatively simple. You don’t have to recreate the wheel, which is nice. So my comfort level was definitely high. And, yeah, I’m excited to be doing it right now.”

The trio of Greenway, rookie Zach Benson and captain Kyle Okposo registered a strong 64.3 percent Corsi For, according to NaturalStatTrick.com

“There’s potential there,” Granato said following the game of Greenway playing center. “(He’s) a big guy. He’s very comfortable with it, he’s played it before and with Skinner out, Mittelstadt’s very effective along walls and on the wing.

“So (I) figured it’s an opportunity for us to try it. And I liked what I saw. And the biggest part for me – two parts: I thought he was good there and he’s comfortable there.”

Greenway said playing center allows him to come out of the defensive zone with speed.

“It allows you to create some more plays as you go into the zone on the rush,” he said. “Defensively down low, I think the center has a little bit more of a responsibility, so there’s more work for me to do down there, which in my opinion is good for me.”

Sabres goalies Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and rookie Devon Levi have mostly alternated starts for three weeks. Since Dec. 21, only Levi, 22, has earned consecutive nods.

But Luukkonen, 24, will likely play against the Canucks. During Friday’s practice, he occupied the net usually reserved for the next game’s starter.

The Finn has found a groove during his last three appearances, compiling a 3-0-0 record with a 1.99 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage.

“He’s played very well,” Granato said. “He’s played consistent and he’s played well at home and lots of factors that we all see.”

Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin sat out Friday’s practice for maintenance.

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