BUFFALO – Cody Hodgson’s benching likely won’t last long, coach Ted Nolan said. The struggling center is too important to the Sabres’ long-term success. They need the 24-year-old in the lineup to produce offense, something he hasn’t done all season.
Hodgson, the Sabres’ leading scorer a year ago, has one goal, three points and a minus-11 rating in 28 games.
Nolan finally scratched Hodgson for the Sabres’ 4-3 win against the Calgary Flames on Thursday inside the First Niagara Center.
“Maybe a game watching will get him out of that funk,” Nolan said.
Hodgson said he hadn’t been a healthy scratch since early in his career with Vancouver.
“We’ll get him back in shortly,” Nolan said.
Sabres winger Chris Stewart, a scratch last game, returned.
Hodgson has been a colossal disappointment in the second season of a six-year, $25.5 million contract.
He ended a 17-game point drought Saturday. He had 20 goals and 44 points in 72 games last season and 15 goals and 34 points in 48 contests in 2012-13.
“At the end of the day, it’s a results-oriented game,” Hodgson said. “You can try your hardest every shift and work, but at the end of the day, it’s what you do out there.”
Hodgson is scoring at a stunning three-goal, nine-point pace.
“Sometimes you overwork, too, and you overthink,” Nolan said. “Cody’s a real good player. He’s got some really good hands. He can score some goals, but unfortunately they’re not happening right now. Sometimes it’s good to sit back and look it from a different perspective.”
Is Hodgson surprised about the scratch?
“I wish I was playing, let’s just say that,” he said.
Hodgson’s work ethic doesn’t worry Nolan. He was out late on the ice late Thursday morning with assistant coach Bryan Trottier.
“The one thing we never complain about Cody Hodgson is his work,” Nolan said. “He works at it, and he’s trying. But sometimes the more you try, the less you do.”
Stewart, meanwhile, skated on the right wing beside Marcus Foligno, who shifted to center, and Drew Stafford, who moved from right to left wing.
Nolan said he had a “good talk” with Stewart about the power forward’s style of play.
With an extra forward, Nolan has options for his lineup.
“We’re in a very competitive sport,” he said. “We’re also in the National Hockey League, so it’s probably the most competitive league in the world. So you have to be competitive in order to get one of those jobs, and there’s only 720 of them. To have competition from within, yeah, I think it’s healthy.”
Seven years ago, Mark Giordano bolted from North America, all the way to the Russian KHL. Just 55 games into his NHL career, the Flames defenseman wanted more playing time and money.
“I didn’t really know if I’d ever come back,” Giordano said Thursday afternoon. “I thought I could be a good player in Europe for a long time if I had to.”
Following one season with Moscow Dynamo, Giordano rejoined the Flames in 2008, the start of his stunning transformation.
“Looking back now, it was a bit of a risky decision,” Giordano said about going to Europe. “But I think I played a lot of minutes, a bigger ice surface. I think it helped my game, for sure.”
These days, the undrafted 31-year-old might be the NHL’s best defenseman. He has eight goals, 30 points and a plus-14 rating in 30 games for the upstart Flames entering Thursday. He has at least one point in 24 contests.
Giordano, who scored a power-play goal Thursday, has morphed into a strong Norris Trophy candidate.
What has happened to Calgary’s captain?
“You don’t really find what you need for that patience in your own zone until you’ve played a bunch of games,” Giordano said. “It took me a bit longer than most, but every year I just tried to get better and more comfortable, especially in my own zone.”
Flames coach Bob Hartley believes Giordano’s development has been “a constant progression.” Giordano had 43 points four years ago and 47 points last season.
“I’ve seen this guy in the gym every day, this guy in practice, I’ve seen this guy prepare,” Hartley said. “There’s basically no flaws in his preparation and in his game and his commitment. So you can only go up when you’re doing every part of this game right.
“The unfortunate thing of this is fans don’t get a chance to witness what we see from Gio on a day-to-day basis. … It’s a well-deserved recognition that he’s getting. He’s our captain. He’s been great for us.”