BUFFALO – Having piled up points throughout his career, Sabres defenseman Brandon Montour understands he has earned a reputation.
“People that see me as a player, I think, over the years, they think it was just offense,” Montour said prior to Tuesday’s 6-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche inside KeyBank Center.
Montour, 25, has averaged nine goals and 34 points in his two full NHL seasons. He put up 12 goals and 57 points in his only start-to-finish AHL campaign. He compiled 20 points in 21 games in an abbreviated NCAA season before turning pro.
You get the idea.
But Montour has evolved, adding a dimension he said is stronger than his offense.
“I’ve learned a lot from the older guys that play just the defensive game,” Montour said. “I think that’s more … of a strength (in) my game than I’ll be scoring a goal or whatnot.”
A lower-body injury forced Montour to be a late scratch for Saturday afternoon’s 2-1 overtime win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. He returned Tuesday.
Following a slow start this season – a left hand injury he suffered in his preseason debut sidelined him the first 14 games – Montour has found a groove, playing 20 or more minutes in each of his last five outings.
“When I’m in a game logging a lot of minutes, I think that’s my strength,” Montour said. “I’m fully capable of doing that. Coming in last couple weeks, I think it’s increased. I just want to keep gaining that trust and that role.”
In Thursday’s 3-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens, Montour skated a season-high 23 minutes, 31 seconds, more than any Sabres defenseman.
“More than anything, his confidence of what to do when we don’t have the puck I think is then feeding into what he’s doing with the puck,” Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said of why Montour has been playing so much. “When you have the skating ability of a Brandon Montour, your opposition should have no time and no space.
“(I) thought earlier on that was an area he needed to improve on and he has. He’s really embraced the aggressive pressure we’d like to put, and he will be a leader for us in that category for a long time.”
Montour said he has been utilizing his skating, his top asset, to react quicker to see the play. That means he sometimes moves faster than he needs to.
He said if an opponent gets a step on him, he can recover.
“I trust my own skating that I’m capable of sticking with them,” he said.
Following his arrival from the Anaheim Ducks almost a year ago before the trade deadline, Montour skated at least 20 minutes most nights.
But Montour couldn’t build on that early this season.
After injuring his knee in May playing for Team Canada at the World Championship, he recovered in time for training camp. Then he hurt his hand Sept. 17.
“Another dumb injury,” he said.
Of course, adjusting to a new coaching staff can be difficult. There are new expectations, a different system.
So Krueger kept everyone – even injured players – involved in team meetings during camp. Montour also worked closely with assistant coach Steve Smith, who runs the defense.
“When he came into play, we thought it was really simple and smooth,” Krueger said. “The big thing is to not forget about the injured players.”
Still, Montour needed to acclimate following his Nov. 2 debut. He eclipsed 20 minutes just three times in his first 24 outings.
The Sabres, who often dress seven defensemen, even used him at forward.
“Kind of slowly got into it, slowly trying to get comfortable with everything, playing a little, playing some forward, playing wherever they needed me,” said Montour, who mostly played with Henri Jokiharju on Tuesday. “But I think I’m at a good spot now and feeling comfortable with the last 30 games. I just need to get this little injury here fixed up.”
Montour has scored three goals and 13 points in 38 games this season.
In addition to what Krueger termed some “light injuries,” the Sabres are dealing with some sickness going around the locker room.
Krueger said Tuesday morning he wouldn’t know his lineup until later in the day.
Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (upper body) and center Johan Larsson (lower body) sat out the game. They missed Monday’s practice for maintenance. Dahlin skated Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile, the Sabres scratched center Curtis Lazar (illness).
The Sabres recalled rookie forward Rasmus Asplund from the Rochester Americans before the game and dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen. Asplund, 22, played his first 28 NHL games earlier this season.
Defenseman Zach Bogosian, who was sick late last week, also returned.