BUFFALO – Some one-on-one chats with Tage Thompson following his worst outing this season left Sabres coach Don Granato feeling like his star center would bounce back in a hurry.
“He was on a mission to play better than he played the other night,” Granato said after Thompson scored twice twice in the first period of Thursday’s 5-3 win over the Ottawa Senators at KeyBank Center. “… And he did with urgency, and obviously he’s a dangerous guy when he’s playing with that type of urgency.”
Thompson, a non-factor in Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the Seattle Kraken, performed dynamically Thursday before the crowd of 16,083 fans, looking every bit like the guy who scored 47 goals and 94 points last season.
The American skated coast-to-coast on his first goal, carrying the puck from deep in his own zone to put the Sabres up 2-1 at 17:28. Then he gave them a two-goal lead at 19:28, scoring a rare power-play goal from the left circle.
He pumped five shots on net before sitting out late with an undisclosed injury. He also briefly departed in the second period after taking a high-stick in the face. It’s unclear why he left the second time.
Granato said the Sabres will know more about Thompson today.
“Tage, I think, will be OK,” he said. “But we’ll find out.”
Thompson, who got off to a slow start this season before injuring his hand, has quietly compiled his best stretch all year, scoring seven goals and 12 points in his last nine games. While Granato moved him to the third line and shortened his minutes Tuesday, that was a rare off night.
“He’s just got so much confidence with the puck,” said Sabres center Dylan Cozens, whose empty-net goal sealed just the Sabres’ ninth home win this season. “You can see when he has that confidence, he’s just making guys look silly out there and he’s shooting the puck with authority. Those two goals were pretty hard shots.
“So that’s the Tage we all know and love and hopefully we see a lot more of that the second half of the year.”
The Sabres, who have won three of their last four games, need contributions like they received Thursday if they want to make a second-half playoff push.
It was a get-well game that for 40 minutes the Sabres took full advantage of, jumping out to a 4-1 lead.
The Senators, a team that has recently fired its coach and general manager, limped into town to close a five-game road trip having lost all four games out west and 11 of their last 14.
Winger JJ Peterka and center Peyton Krebs each ended 12-game goal droughts, scoring for the first time since Dec. 11. Cozens’ goal ended an eight-game drought.
Perhaps most impressively, the Sabres clamped down on Ottawa defensively, limiting their chances to the perimeter for the first 40 minutes.
The Sabres blocked a season-high 27 shots. Rookie defenseman Ryan Johnson recorded a game-high six.
“We were in the middle of the rink,” Granato said. “We weren’t running out of position. Obviously, the net’s in the middle of the rink and when you’re in the middle of the rink, the puck’s going to come to you. And you got to be willing to block shots, but you can’t be caught outside ice. We didn’t reload the middle of the rink the other night well enough, and that was a big point of emphasis tonight.”
When the Senators made a late push, getting two third-period goals from Claude Giroux to creep within 4-3, the Sabres kept their cool.
“We want the wins,” Krebs said. “We know the taste of what it feels like to lose and it’s not fun. As a group, collectively, we came into the third period and said, ‘We need to lock in right now,’ and we did that. Obviously let in a couple goals there, but we didn’t get flustered and we made it happen.”
Sabres goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen looked sharp again, making 25 saves while extending his winning streak to three games.
Senators goalie Anton Forsberg suffered a groin injury in the first period and was replaced by Joonas Korpisalo.