BUFFALO – This is probably only a temporary benching. Sabres coach Phil Housley plans to give winger Tage Thompson another opportunity soon.
But for the first time since Nov. 8 and the eighth time this season, Thompson, 21, sat out as a healthy scratch Thursday.
Center Johan Larsson replaced him for the Sabres’6-5 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Thompson, a big piece of the Ryan O’Reilly trade with the St. Louis Blues, had played 36 straight contests.
“The last couple games, he wasn’t playing the game that he played in the Columbus game (Jan. 29) where he was attacking the game,” Housley said Thursday morning inside KeyBank Center. “I thought he needed a little bit more battle, needed to show a little bit more speed. So he’s going to take a step back but he’s going to get another opportunity.”
The Sabres have brought the 6-foot-6, 205-pound Thompson along slowly. In late October and early November, he only played twice over nearly a three-week stretch.
Right away, Thompson seemed to benefit from the extra on- and off-ice work. Shortly after returning to the lineup, he scored four goals over a five-game stretch.
Over the last 26 games, however, Thompson has only mustered three goals, the last coming in the Sabres’ 5-4 win in Columbus.
“I need to be better, obviously,” Thompson said. “Just take this time to regroup and try to work on things. Now I know what to do when I come back in.”
Over the last few months, Thompson has sometimes showcased the talents of a top power forward, utilizing a nifty toe drag or his lethal shot to create offense.
“I feel like I have done some good things throughout the season, gotten better at certain aspects, and I need to continue to grow at that,” Thompson said.
Still, the former first-round pick has performed too inconsistently.
In other Thompson-related news, Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu tore his ACL and will miss the rest of the season after colliding with Thompson in the Sabres’ 5-4 shootout win Tuesday.
“It’s just kind of one of those plays where we run into each other at the blue line, I think he falls kind of funny,” Thompson said. “You never want to see another guy go down like that. I wish him nothing but a fast recovery.”
Thompson said he tore up both of his knees when he was younger.
Housley said Sabres defenseman Casey Nelson, out since suffering an upper-body injury Dec. 4, is “just about game ready.”
Nelson, 26, has been practicing since the NHL All-Star break ended Jan. 27.
A healthy Nelson would give the Sabres nine defensemen, meaning they would likely have to make a roster move.
Could the Sabres send Nelson on a conditioning assignment to the Rochester Americans before he returns?
“We’re considering all options,” Housley said.
Update: The Sabres sent Nelson to the AHL this morning on a conditioning assignment.
Nelson has missed the last 26 games.
Notes: Housley broke up the defense tandem of rookie Rasmus Dahlin and Rasmus Ristolainen he used Tuesday, putting Dahlin beside Zach Bogosian and Ristolainen with rookie Lawrence Pilut. … Larsson said the upper-body injury that sidelined him two games “crept up over time.” Larsson pivoted Vladimir Sobotka, who had been playing center, and Zemgus Girgensons. … Bogosian played his 600th NHL game. … The Sabres also scratched defensemen Nathan Beaulieu and Matt Hunwick (both healthy).