JJ Peterka (pictured) sat out two games with Jack Quinn last week. ©2023, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres rookies Jack Quinn, JJ Peterka look like stars in return to lineup

BUFFALO – Well, it did the trick, right?

Following a brief absence that offered slumping rookies Jack Quinn and JJ Peterka a chance to step back and reset, they performed splendidly in their return, helping the Sabres end a three-game losing streak.

Quinn scored the final goal in Saturday’s 5-3 win over the Nashville Predators and also created center Dylan Cozens’ second-period score from deep in the Buffalo zone. Peterka, meanwhile, earned the primary assist on Cozens’ goal, making a nifty pass at the blue line.

“They looked fresh – mentally, physically – and they were dangerous all night,” Sabres coach Don Granato told reporters in Nashville.

Quinn, who hadn’t scored since Dec. 4, and Peterka also looked confident, recapturing the slick form they showcased when they first moved beside Cozens in November.

“We played like we started playing at the start when got together, and I think (we) kept things easy and kind of tried to play with each other instead of playing alone,” Peterka said following Sunday’s practice at KeyBank Center. “So I think that made the difference.”

Following a torrid stretch, the 21-year-old wingers hadn’t made much of a difference for nearly a month. Quinn had a nine-game point drought and Peterka had mustered just two assists over that stretch when Granato sat them for games on Tuesday and Thursday.

Having each hit a wall almost halfway through the season, Granato thought sitting out would help them deal with their struggles.

While Quinn remained with the Sabres, in a paper move on Thursday, they loaned him to the Rochester Americans to create a roster spot for goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. On Friday, they summoned Quinn by loaning center Peyton Krebs to their AHL affiliate.

Of course, neither youngster wanted to be scratched.

“But I don’t think it was the worst thing,” Quinn said after the Sabres prepared for this afternoon’s game against the Florida Panthers. “Did it earlier in the season, too. Obviously, as a player you don’t want to sit at all, but I think last night I was able to play with a lot of energy.”

When Quinn sat out two games in October, he used the time to study the action and develop a better understanding of the Sabres’ system and expectations. He looked more engaged following his return, and shortly after that he began making his first significant contributions.

“Just watch the games, watch the players, see if you can take anything away,” Quinn said of what he did last week. “I mean, that’s pretty much it. I think more just a mental reset to kind of come back and play my game.”

Quinn said he also went over “little details with our system” with the coaches that had been slipping in his game.

Peterka said “nobody’s happy when you’re watching from the press box.”

“We were kind of more hungry because we didn’t play and we wanted to be on the ice so bad,” he said.

If they can replicate what they did on Saturday, they should earn plenty of ice time. The trio of Cozens, Quinn and Peterka generated a team-high 68.4 percent Corsi For, according to NaturalStatTrick.com.

Quinn scored in the third period, ending a 13-game goal drought after Peterka zoomed to the net. Quinn set up Cozens’ goal by grabbing a loose puck around his own crease and lofting a pass up ice.

“Quinn made a great defense play,” Granato said.

Halfway through his first season, Quinn said he has learned the importance of playing defense.

“You have to be really good defensively if you want to play and you want to be good offensively because you won’t have the puck back,” he said. “I think that’s actually part of the reason our game was slipping before we sat out a little bit. We were stuck in the D-zone a little bit and not able to get pucks back.

“Last night, I think were able to cut some plays in the D-zone and get some offense out of it. I think that goes a long way.”

In another paper move on Sunday, the Sabres recalled Krebs and sent Luukkonen to Rochester. That means either Craig Anderson or Eric Comrie will start in goal against the Panthers.

Meanwhile, winger Zemgus Girgensons, who missed Saturday’s game (non-COVID illness), practiced on Sunday.

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