Alex Tuch has scored just one goal this season. ©2023, Michelinee Veluvolu

Sabres’ Alex Tuch starting to score, bust out of early-season slump: ‘I thought I let my teammates down’

BUFFALO – Sabres coach Don Granato loved the emotion and energy winger Alex Tuch displayed while fighting twice in the last week.

Tuch, 27, quickly made New York Islanders defenseman Adam Pelech pay for trying to knee linemate Jeff Skinner late in Saturday’s 3-1 win. Then when surly Ottawa Senators star Brady Tkachuk challenged Tuch following a trip late in Tuesday’s 6-4 victory, he accepted.

“I’m not going to say no, he’s already got (his gloves) off,” Tuch said following Thursday’s practice in KeyBank Center. “I’m not going to cower.”

Granato said “so many good things” come from Tuch fighting, including “a message you’re not going to be pushed around.”

“But at the end of it, he’s a goal scorer,” he said.

Tuch has struggled to score goals this season, mustering just one, a power-play tally Wednesday, entering tonight’s road game against the New Jersey Devils. So he has registered more fights than goals through the first seven contests.

Prior to Saturday, Tuch had fought just once in the NHL, way back on Feb. 21, 2018, according to So in the last three games, he has more fights than in his first 383 appearances.

“Quite frankly, if that helps him energize right now and get back to his game, I absolutely love it,” Granato said. “But, yeah, you also think about risks when you have a very talented player dropping the gloves, and those are not fun to think about.

“So do I want him doing that? No, certainly not on a regular basis.”

Tuch’s offensive performance in Ottawa could help him start scoring on a regular basis. The fight and Ottawa’s late three-goal comeback – the Sabres almost blew a 5-1 lead – overshadowed the Baldwinsville native’s best outing this season.

The 6-foot-4, 219-pound Tuch looked more like the power forward who enjoyed a 36-goal, 79-point breakout campaign in 2022-23.

Early in the game, he earned just his second point this season by adroitly feeding Skinner on a two-on-one. That assist helped him generate some much-needed confidence.

“You just keep rolling,” said Tuch, who recorded at least two points over every six-game stretch last season.

Late in the second period, he tipped defenseman Rasmus Dahlin’s shot in to put the Sabres up 4-1.

Tuch’s slow start – he has averaged just 1.8 shots a game, down from 2.9 last season – had been wearing on him.

“I thought I let my teammates down in the first five, six games of the season with my effort, with my abilities, honestly,” he said. “And that needed to change, and I took the game in Ottawa to heart to make sure I didn’t let it get any further down the road.”

Granato said behind the scenes, Tuch puts a lot of pressure on himself. After a certain amount, Granato said that can become negative.

“To get to this level, I really think you have to have high expectations of yourself,” Tuch said.

So the Sabres work with Tuch. For example, Granato said he can talk to general manager Kevyn Adams, who won the Stanley Cup as a player, or assistant Dan Girardi, who played 917 NHL games before retiring in 2019.

When the Sabres constructed their staff, Granato said they wanted to make sure they had the experience and personalities and to “provide for the players’ needs in situation where they are challenging themselves.”

“Everybody pitches in,” he said.

Prior to Tuesday’s game, some coaches met with Tuch and examined video. Granato said he knew before the puck dropped “he was in the right place.”

“We knew he went into the game with a better focus,” he said. “I think he felt better after meetings. So when you see him score, the first (thought) is, ‘This is great, he got rewarded for it.’”

Tuch said in difficult times, he assesses his game by using “a find it, fix it, forget about it” mentality.

“That’s been my mentality since I was young,” he said. “I try to figure out what I’m doing wrong. … If you constantly think about what you have done in the past, how bad you were, how good you were, you’re never going to be able to be better than you were yesterday and you’re never going to be able to move on. So that’s something I always try to think of and I think I got away from a little bit, too.”

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