BUFFALO – There’s a common theory why Sabres winger Matt Moulson has struggled offensively for the last two seasons. The three-time 30-goal scorer needs an elite center feeding him the puck regularly to be productive. Without one, the 31-year-old’s pretty average.
To wit: Moulson averaged 32 goals and 57 points on the left wing beside New York Islanders superstar John Tavares over three full seasons. Moulson scored 15 goals and 44 points in 47 games two years ago and had six goals and nine points in 11 contests last season before the Isles dealt him.
Moulson has mostly struggled beside a slew of pedestrian or unproven centers with the rebuilding Sabres, compiling 21 goals and 62 points in 108 games, including 10 goals and 33 points in 64 contests this season.
Of course, the Sabres have scored only 122 times through 67 games, a pathetic 149-score pace that would break their own dubious NHL record for fewest goals in a season they set last season.
Still, Moulson, won’t make any excuses for his weak production.
“I don’t think any of us are having a year as a team or personally we wanted to have at the start of the year,” Moulson said Friday inside HarborCenter after the Sabres prepared for tonight’s game against the New York Rangers. “That could be for different reasons. But I think you have to find a way to get goals. Obviously, we haven’t done a good enough job of that personally and as a team.”
In the last two months, Zemgus Girgensons, Torrey Mitchell, Phil Varone and Johan Larsson have centered Moulson.
Girgensons, a talented youngster who’s injured, would probably be a third-liner somewhere else right now. Mitchell’s now a fourth-liner in Montreal. Varone and Larsson have 17 combined NHL points.
Moulson has made the best of a difficult situation, compiling two goals and 10 points in the last 10 games, his best stretch all season.
“I think the situation we’re in, how we’re doing, there’s obviously going to be a lot of mixing of lines and trying to get guys going,” Moulson said. “So that’s only natural. I think you just got to get used to whoever you play with.”
Moulson got used to Larsson quickly, scoring a goal and three points in Wednesday’s 4-3 shootout loss in Toronto. Larsson also had three points and created Moulson’s goal in their second game together.
“It was one game,” Moulson said. “The whole thing about the NHL is being consistent and being able to perform night in, night out. He played great the other day. Hopefully, we can build off that.”
Sabres coach Ted Nolan knows it would be easy for Moulson, linemate Tyler Ennis and captain Brian Gionta to get frustrated about the talent playing on their lines.
“They’re very professional about it,” Nolan said. “They’re classy men and they’re great hockey players. Matty’s doing the best he can right now under the situations. Last game was probably one of his better games the whole season.”
Naturally, the trying season has been tough on Moulson, one of Nolan’s favorites. In the dressing room, he’s often smiling and laughing. But playing for the NHL’s worst team has sapped some confidence.
The Cornell University graduate didn’t score until the 15th game. He also endured a career-long 16-game goal drought earlier this winter.
“I think you go in tough stretches your confidence dips a little bit,” he said. “That’s the struggle sometimes, trying to keep it on an even-keel level. I think you can never get too high or too low. It’s amazing a little lack of confidence, how much it really affects your game.
“I think recently I’ve been trying to get it back. I don’t think it’s gone. I think sometimes you have some tough stretches. Sometimes great things come in a hard time. Hopefully, that’s the case.”
Moulson, who finished last season in Minnesota, envisioned “a bright future” when he signed a five-year, $25 million contract July 1. He knew then there would be “some growing pains.”
“I don’t think developing a team that’s going to win consistently comes overnight,” Moulson said. “I think that’s a process of putting the right guys in the right spots and getting the right guys and all sorts of things.
“I know it’s a process, and I believe in it. I believe in the Pegulas (the owners), (general manager) Tim Murray. I think we’re going to do great things here.”