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, will sit out a game as a healthy scratch tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes. Center Johan Larsson will replace him.
Thompson, a big piece of the Ryan O’Reilly trade with the St. Louis Blues, has played the last 36 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 this 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.
Larsson said the upper-body injury that sidelined him two games “crept up over time.”
In other news, Sabres goalie Linus Ullmark will start tonight, his second straight nod.