JJ Peterka has scored a team-best 25 goals this season. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres notes: JJ Peterka earning keep on top line; Michael Houser injured with Rochester

BUFFALO – Before JJ Peterka moved up last week, the left wing spot on the Sabres’ top line alongside center Tage Thompson and Alex Tuch had been a revolving door.

Jeff Skinner, who usually occupies that spot, has struggled and moved around the lineup. So coach Don Granato has utilized Jordan Greenway, Zemgus Girgensons and even Eric Robinson there this month.

Peterka, who scored an empty-net goal in Friday’s 5-2 win over the New Jersey Devils, likely has a chance to stick there long-term.

The German, 22, has fit in nicely, using his speed and a more mature style to generate offense. He has scored five goals in his last four games.

How much has coach Don Granato’s trust recently grown in Peterka? In Wednesday’s 6-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators, he played a career-high 21 minutes, 38 seconds. On March 9, he was benched for most of the second period and the entire third during the Sabres’ 3-2 shootout win over the Edmonton Oilers. He played a career-low 6 minutes, 4 seconds that afternoon.

Granato said Peterka, whose 26 goals are tied for the lead in his second full season, has built a stronger foundation to complement his natural talent.

“(His) play without the puck, where to be, which gets him to offense faster, gets him offense more efficiently, has really developed,” he said. “And you can see that in his play, where he’s picked a couple pucks off that have gone back for chances.”

Peterka has grasped positioning can be critical.

“If you position yourself in a little better spot and kind of like in a better position to pick off pucks, you play way more offense because you have the puck more,” he said prior to Friday’s game at KeyBank Center.

Granato’s belief means a lot to Peterka, a second-round pick in 2020, 34th overall.

“It really comes with being better defensively and then having more awareness when you’re on the ice and against who,” he said.

Granato said Peterka’s terrific play has raised the bar and created competition for that spot, which he called “a dream for a coach.”

“If a guy thinks he can be replaced, that’s the best accountability there is,” he said. “JJ, his performance the last couple games, certainly has raised the bar to the point where he has to keep that up.”

Not long ago, the Rochester Americans had three goalies: Devon Levi, Dustin Tokarski and Devin Cooley.

After the Sabres recently traded Cooley and recalled Levi, they summoned Michael Houser from the ECHL.

Well, coach Seth Appert told reporters Friday in Rochester that Houser will miss three to four weeks after suffering a lower-body injury 34 seconds into Wednesday’s 2-0 win over the Syracuse Crunch.

So right now, the Amerks have Tokarski, who replaced Houser and registered a 29-save “shutout,” and rookie Scott Ratzlaff, who on Wednesday signed an amateur tryout.

The Sabres drafted Ratzlaff, 19, in the fifth round in 2023, 141st overall. He recently completed his junior season with the Western Hockey League’s Seattle Thunderbirds. Appert said the youngster will back up Tokarski this afternoon against the Cleveland Monsters.

Tokarski, 34, missed two games last weekend with an undisclosed problem.

Notes: Greenway, who left Thursday’s practice after aggravating an injury, played against New Jersey. … Center Tyson Jost returned from an undisclosed injury that sidelined him two games. To make room, the Sabres scratched Robinson. … The Sabres also scratched rookie winger Lukas Rousek, who was high-sticked in the face during Tuesday’s practice, and goalie Eric Comrie and defenseman Kale Clague (both healthy).

One thought on “Sabres notes: JJ Peterka earning keep on top line; Michael Houser injured with Rochester”

  1. Outside of UPL and maybe Dahlin, there can be an argument made that Peterka has been the team’s MVP.
    He has a great and accurate shot.
    This kid is the real deal.

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