Alex Tuch has a three-game point streak. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres’ Alex Tuch earning respect as leader, starting to heat up offensively

BUFFALO – Coach Don Granato said the Sabres had discussed temporarily awarding winger Alex Tuch a letter before he gutted out more than 16 minutes of ice time and registered two assists battling illness.

The affable Tuch, a heart-and-soul player who’s also a top scorer, checks so many of the boxes the Sabres desire in a leader.

“There are lots of guys in the locker room that look up to Alex and that was probably the most important part of it,” Granato said of why Tuch earned a letter.

So it was just a coincidence the Baldwinsville native first served as an alternate captain with defenseman Rasmus Dahlin and winger Zemgus Girgensons following his notable effort in last Thursday’s 6-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens.

Tuch, 27, wore an ‘A’ for Saturday’s 3-1 road victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tuesday’s 5-2 home loss to the Seattle Kraken.

The Sabres don’t usually give out temporary letters, so their decision illustrates how highly they regard Tuch.

With captain Kyle Okposo close to returning from a lower-body injury – he could play tonight against the Ottawa Senators at KeyBank Center – Tuch might be done wearing a letter for now.

“It was an absolute honor,” Tuch said following Wednesday’s practice in LECOM Harborcenter. “It’s nothing I take lightly and I try to wear it with pride every single night. I was really excited for the opportunity, but at the same time, it’s just a letter on the chest. It doesn’t affect anything that I do or how I play or how I am around the locker room or with my teammates.

“I saw it as more of a nice gesture, I guess, like, ‘Hey, you’re doing the right things, so this is how we’re going to show you that you’re doing the right things.’”

The Sabres, having fallen toward the bottom of the Eastern Conference again, will be leaning heavily on Tuch down the stretch. Having mustered only 38 points exactly halfway through the schedule, the odds of them ending their 12-year playoff drought are slim.

If they’re going to make a charge up the standings, Tuch will likely be at the forefront.

Injuries dogged the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Tuch during the first half. An upper-body ailment sidelined him three games in mid-November and a hamstring problem shelved him four contests in early December.

Despite a slow start – he scored just one goal in his first 11 outings – and rarely playing at 100 percent, he has produced 11 goals and 29 points in 34 contests.

“It was up and down a little bit more at the start of the year,” Tuch said of his season. “I think it’s been a little bit more consistent as of late. I’m trying to be someone that everyone in here can lean on and look to to have a very front-line, similar style of game each and every night. Hopefully produce as much as possible and try to be a game-changer each and every night.

“I’ve been able to chip in a little bit more the past few days, which has been good, helped my confidence.”

Early in the season, Tuch often met with Granato and assistant coach Matt Ellis and examined video to decipher his game and find what he can lean on when he’s struggling.

“What positionally I can do and where I can be on the ice to make it as opportune as possible for myself,” said Tuch, who set career highs by scoring 36 goals and 79 points last season.

He has registered two goals and five points during a three-game point streak he began in Montreal and ended an eight-game goal drought in Pittsburgh.

Granato said “perseverance” and Tuch’s passion for his team and the sport has helped him find his regular style.

“He’s a guy that collects a lot of energy from others,” he said. “He’s inspired by others and he inspires others, so he’s always in it. He’s never satisfied if he’s not playing the way he needs to play and he takes it hard when he’s not because he cares.

“He’s gotten healthier, obviously. He was dealing with a nagging injury that didn’t go away and he played under 100 percent quite a few times. Now I think he’s getting back to speed and back to pace where he’s more comfortable and more confident as a result.”

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