Benoit Pouliot has scored nine goals this season. ©2018, Hickling Images, Olean Times Herald

Sabres’ Benoit Pouliot trying to regain early-season form

BUFFALO – Late last month, Benoit Pouliot tried something new. After 12 NHL seasons and nearly 600 games played, the struggling Sabres winger removed the visor from his helmet.

“A spur-of-the-moment type of (thing),” Pouliot explained Friday. “I wanted to change some things, so I just took the visor off.”

Will shedding some plastic really help Pouliot? Probably not. But right now, the veteran is trying to break out of a funk.

The Sabres’ biggest early-season surprise has morphed into a healthy scratch, sitting out four of the last 12 games. Pouliot practiced as a spare defenseman Friday, meaning he will likely be scratched for tonight’s tilt against the St. Louis Blues at KeyBank Center.

What has gotten away from Pouliot in recent weeks?

“Playing well,” he said bluntly. “I think I haven’t really played that good doing my job, which is using my speed, get in on the forecheck, get in front of the net and create turnovers. But I haven’t been doing that lately. Yeah, it (stinks).”

After signing a one-year, $1.15 million contract July 1, Pouliot quickly became one of the Sabres’ most productive and versatile forwards, scoring six goals in the first 18 games while moving up and down the lineup.

But Pouliot, who has never scored more than 19 goals in a season, tailed off by mid-November. Through 47 appearances, he has scored nine goals.

Pouliot has remained positive through his rough stretch. Still, the frustration is evident in his voice.

“My game hasn’t been there,” he said. “I’m not going to show up at the rink and be miserable around the guys or pout. I’ll show up here, have a good time with the guys, take a positive attitude and just go along with it, and if I’m in the lineup, whatever game it is, I’ll be ready.”

He added: “I want to play every night and be with the boys and battle out there. I guess I haven’t been good enough to do that.”

Sabres coach Phil Housley said Pouliot “understands where he’s at right now.”

“He’s got to make the most of his opportunity when he gets back in the lineup, and he understands the detail of his game slipped a little bit and that’s why he’s out of the lineup,” Housley said.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Pouliot could be out of Buffalo soon. With an expiring contract, he might be an attractive option for a team before the Feb. 26 trade deadline. The former fourth overall pick could be available for a low draft choice.

Having played for seven NHL teams, Pouliot is used to moving around and not worried about getting traded.

“I don’t think about it. It is what it is,” he said. “If it happens, it happens, then I just roll with it. I’ve been playing for quite a while now and know how the business of the game is a little bit. I try not to worry. If I start worrying about stuff like that, then it’s going to throw me off even worse than I am right now.”

Age and experience have helped Pouliot relax.

“Younger, I think (you have a) different mentality, you’re not sure what to expect, you really don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “When I was younger, I was worried about the little stuff, for sure. Now I’m 31 years old and I’ve been through a couple things in my career.”

Actually, more than a couple. Pouliot has also played for the Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers and Edmonton Oilers. Following a rough 2016-17 campaign, the Oilers exercised a buyout on the final two seasons of his five-year, $20 million contract.

Pouliot has tried to embrace his travels.

“I got to see a lot of new cities, make a lot of new friends, get to know organizations well,” he said. “There’s different types of people out there in organizations, and I was fortunate to be on really good ones, and so … getting a lot of experience, a lot of playoff games, it’s been a fun ride.

“Changing teams, when you do it a lot, it kind of takes a toll, you want to be settled somewhere. I think Edmonton, my three years there was very good. Just right now, I don’t worry about it too much.”

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