BUFFALO – In past seasons, the line comprised of center Evan Rodrigues and wingers Zemgus Girgensons and Jason Pominville would’ve been the Sabres’ third or even second combination.
But for the first time in years, the Sabres have legitimate NHL depth, so the trio is actually their fourth line.
Well, in terms of ice time, it’s the fourth line.
“It’s amazing, those guys have been the most consistent (line) since they were put together,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said after Pominville scored in Monday afternoon’s 4-2 win against the Vegas Golden Knights. “They’ve had some good opportunities and looks, but (they’re) very trustworthy, reliable. I can put them in a D-zone faceoff against the opposing team’s best lines. …
“They’re really playing the right way.”
In Thursday’s dreadful 4-0 loss to the Boston Bruins, the line was perhaps the Sabres’ only bright spot, generating most of their scoring chances early on. Housley broke them up for Saturday’s 3-1 win against the New York Rangers, moving Girgensons up beside center Casey Mittelstadt and Tage Thompson. Newcomer Remi Elie replaced Girgensons.
Housley moved Elie to the Mittelstadt line Monday and Girgensons back with Rodrigues and Pominville.
“We kind of feed off each other well, we enjoy playing with each other,” Pominville said. “We found out today we were playing together, so we all had a smile.”
Pominville was smiling after scoring his 278th NHL goal and first this season 9:43 into the second period inside KeyBank Center. The linemates got the puck deep before Girgensons fed Rodrigues in the right corner. Pominville then one-timed Rodrigues’ pass alone in front.
Of course, offense is usually a bonus from the fourth line. But the trio’s sound defense is creating scoring chances.
“We complement each other with forecheck, effort, backcheck and tracking, even defensively,” Pominville said. “We can all defend. It’s led to us having the puck a lot and being able to play with it.”
Girgensons said the line possesses “a little bit of everything.”
“Evan can dish out the passes,” he said. “Pommer’s good at scoring goals. I bring a little intensity. So it’s a good combination.”
Golden Knights winger William Carrier, who played 41 games with the Sabres in 2016-17, made his first appearance in Buffalo as an opponent Monday.
“A little special, obviously, and the rest is just another game,” Carrier said prior to the game. “I think most of the roster changed for them.”
In fact, he faced only eight of his former teammates. Given all the losing the Sabres have endured in recent seasons, the roster turnover doesn’t surprise him.
“They have a really good lineup now, they made a few moves,” Carrier said. “Jack (Eichel) is one of the greatest players in the league, so I think it’ll be OK for the next few years.”
Two years ago, Carrier, 23, served as a gritty fourth-line presence the Sabres could move up the lineup because of his skill. In Vegas, he has a similar role.
“Good fourth-liner, lot of speed, lot of intensity,” Carrier said. “Just trying to bring the work ethic up for the rest of the group.”
Carrier said had no idea the Golden Knights would grab him in the expansion draft.
“It was kind of a surprise for me,” he said.
The Golden Knights’ season, of course, quickly became one of the most memorable in NHL history. Carrier played 10 playoff games last season and one during the Stanley Cup final.
“I think it went over expectations for everyone, first-year team,” Carrier said. “But after the first 10 games, we kind of realized we had a pretty good team.”
Sabres prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is quickly becoming the Ontario Hockey League’s best goalie.
Luukkonen, 19, earned the junior league’s Player of the Week honors for the period ending Sunday, going 3-0-0 with a 1.66 goals-against average and a .952 save percentage.
Overall, the Finn has terrific numbers – 5-0-0, 1.78 and .944 – in his first five games.
The Sabres drafted Luukkonen in the second round in 2017, 54th overall.
Notes: The Sabres scored on their first three shots in the second period. … The Sabres scratched defensemen Zach Bogosian (lower body) and Matt Tennyson (healthy) and winger Vladimir Sobotka. … Sabres goalie Carter Hutton made 35 saves. The Sabres only pumped 17 on Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. … Erik Haula and Jonathan Marchessault scored for Vegas.