BUFFALO – The most vivid memory of Zemgus Girgensons’ NHL debut isn’t the goal he scored in Detroit’s historic Joe Louis Arena. No, something far less exciting stands out to the Sabres winger.
On Girgensons’ first shifts Oct. 2, 2013, he said star Pavel Datsyuk’s line kept hemming the Sabres in their own zone.
“I definitely remember that more than I scored a goal,” Girgensons said Friday prior to his 300th NHL game.
Girgensons, whose parents missed their flight to the game, later scored on his first shot in the 2-1 loss to the Red Wings.
Back then, Girgensons, 23, looked like a big piece of the Sabres’ future. After drafting him 14th overall in 2012, he cracked the NHL as a teenager.
Girgensons enjoyed a first-line role in 2014-15, scoring 15 times in 61 games. Proud fans at home in Latvia stuffed online ballots so he earned a spot in the NHL All-Star Game.
Then Girgensons’ role and production quickly dwindled as the Sabres rebuilt their lineup. For the past few years, he has mostly shuttled between center and the wing as a third- or fourth-liner.
The Sabres, meanwhile, haven’t made the playoffs during his tenure.
“Definitely not what I wanted out of those seasons … but definitely a learning curve,” Girgensons said inside KeyBank Center. “You can learn a lot from 300 games.”
Since his 15-goal season, Girgensons has scored 15 goals in 169 contests.
After going pointless again in Friday’s 4-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, Girgensons has a career-long 18-game point drought. He hadn’t recorded one since scoring his only goal this season Oct. 14.
“It’s definitely tough, especially when you’re in those slumps, it’s in your mind and it’s not easy to get out,” Girgensons said. “You just stick with it, you do the system, you play the right way and it will come.”
Girgensons usually produces points during his brief stints beside center Jack Eichel. But Girgensons said he doesn’t showcase that same offensive style with other linemates.
“Sometimes maybe when I play with someone else I maybe try to adapt a little bit to the other type of game,” he said. “I think I just have to stick with what I do best and it’ll all come together.”
Girgensons played left wing Friday beside center Johan Larsson and Matt Moulson, a fourth line that has combined for two goals and seven points this season.
So what has Girgensons evolved into five seasons and 300 games into his career?
“(A) two-way player, definitely offense has been a problem the past couple years, so it’s definitely something I’m focusing on,” he said. “But penalty kill is something I definitely established throughout my games, so that’s one of my big parts of my games.”
To Sabres coach Phil Housley, Girgensons’ aggressive style might eventually pay off.
“He’s just got to continue to go hard to the net, that’s his area where he’s at his best, being physical on the forecheck, disrupting plays in the offensive zone and just getting down into the zone and wanting to get dirty down there,” Housley said.
Twenty-six games into the season, the Sabres’ six regular defensemen finally played together.
Zach Bogosian, out since suffering a lower-body injury Sept. 29, made his season debut, skating beside Nathan Beaulieu. Bogosian hadn’t played since the preseason finale.
With Bogosian, 27, the Sabres have a second right-handed defender. Rasmus Ristolainen had been the only righty recently.
“It’s always nice to have lefty-righty, especially in transition,” Housley said. “It’s easier to accept passes, come up ice. When you have that, it just forms a different angle for a guy playing his off side.”
With Bogosian back, the Sabres scratched defenseman Justin Falk.
Notes: Defenseman Matt Tennyson cleared waivers Friday and was sent to the AHL. Tennyson, a regular with the Sabres earlier this season, played for the Rochester Americans hours after his assignment. … The Sabres also scratched defenseman Josh Gorges. … The Sabres sent goalie Linus Ullmark, who practiced Thursday to give Robin Lehner a rest, back to the Amerks on Friday.