BUFFALO – At the beginning of the season, fresh off a breakout 38-goal campaign, Sabres star Tage Thompson wanted duplicate last year’s career-best output.
“If I could get around the same as I got last year, it would be successful and (I’d) be pretty happy with that,” Thompson said prior to Thursday’s 4-3 overtime win against the Ottawa Senators at KeyBank Center, the Sabres’ home finale.
Well, Thompson, 25, hit the 30-goal mark Jan. 3, recording a hat trick in his 36th game. By then, he had been scoring at a blistering 60-goal pace for weeks.
At some point – he doesn’t remember when – he moved the bar a little higher to 50 goals, one of hockey’s most prestigious milestones.
“At a certain point, you kind of feel that you’re getting close and that’s when you start changing your goals,” said Thompson, who scored his 47th goal Thursday, a power-play tally that tied the game in the third period. “It starts off a little lower at the beginning of the season and as you progress it starts to get a little higher.
“So it’s kind of something where throughout the course of the season it continues to get higher. So it’s kind of the number I landed on.”
Unfortunately, Thompson, who has been nursing an upper-body injury, won’t get a chance to hit 50 goals. Coach Don Granato said following Thursday’s game that the Sabres’ leading scorer will be held out of tonight’s season finale in Columbus against the Blue Jackets.
Too bad. Thompson’s certainly capable of scoring three goals in one game, especially in Columbus. In a dynamic outing Dec. 7, he scored five goals, including four in the first period, in a 9-4 road win over the Blue Jackets.
He has four hat tricks this season. Fifty, while a long shot, was still within reach.
Of course, Thompson has cooled off a bit as the season progressed. He has scored just five times in his last 17 games, although he has three goals in the past five contests.
His injury, which recently sidelined him three games, has clearly hampered him. Granato even switched him from center to right wing to help him deal with it.
Thompson began his career as a right winger.
“I’m comfortable on the wing,” he said.” I’m comfortable in the middle. It doesn’t really matter to me. I think it was more of a thing for something I’ve been battling the last few games and just trying to make sure I’m not aggravating it more.”
A Sabres player hasn’t scored 50 goals since Alexander Mogilny (76) and Pat LaFontaine (53) each surpassed the mark in 1992-93.
Thompson’s 94 points are the most since Daniel Briere had 95 in 2006-07.
The Sabres made one lineup change up front Thursday, inserting winger Victor Olofsson and scratching center Tyson Jost.
Olofsson returned after sitting out five straight games as a healthy scratch. The Swede scored his 27th goal this season in the second period.
“It’s not been easy decisions,” Granato said of sitting Olofsson. “You have to make decisions, unfortunately. Yeah, it’s always nice to get a guy back in the lineup.”
Meanwhile, the Sabres scratched defenseman Mattias Samuelsson, who missed 12 out of 14 games last month recovering from an upper-body injury.
“He’s played some games for us that … he went above and beyond for us,” Granato said. “I’m not comfortable that he should go in there tonight, nor is Kevyn (Adams).”
Defenseman Riley Stillman moved into the lineup.
Samuelsson will likely miss tonight’s game.
They also scratched defenseman Kale Clague, goalies Eric Comrie and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen and wingers Vinnie Hinostroza and Lukas Rousek (all healthy).
The Sabres recalled Rousek from the Rochester Americans prior to the game.
Rousek, 23, made his NHL debut March 27, registering a goal and an assist.
The Czech has compiled 15 goals and 55 points in 68 games with the Amerks this season.
Prior to the game, winger Alex Tuch was named the 2022-23 winner of the Rick Martin Memorial Award, given to the Sabres player who “best demonstrates on-ice excellence, resiliency, and dedication to the community.”
The winner is chosen through a fan vote.