Alex Tuch celebrates his goal March 12. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Steady Alex Tuch giving Sabres offense, veteran leadership

BUFFALO – In experiencing the highs and lows of a disappointing season in which he and the Sabres have sometimes struggled, winger Alex Tuch has found what he called a “baseline” and learned to keep his emotions steady.

“Not letting (yourself) get too emotional here or shut down emotionally there during certain situations, because personally and with the team, there’s been a lot of ups and downs,” Tuch explained following Thursday’s practice in KeyBank Center. “It’s been a roller coaster with everything going on, a lot of outside noise.”

So these days, when that outside noise envelops him, Tuch, 27, feels better equipped to handle it.

“That’s something I’ve been trying to focus on as much as possible in the last couple months and just trying to shut everything out around me, focus on the single task, try to keep my mind as consistent as possible, too,” he said after the Sabres prepared for tonight’s home game against the Philadelphia Flyers.

That fresh mindset has helped the Baldwinsville native during perhaps the toughest season of his career.

Pressure has increased on Tuch and the Sabres since the team acquired him in a blockbuster trade early in the 2021-22 season.

The Sabres, of course, have always leaned heavily on him. After all, he arrived here during a rebuild having played 66 NHL playoff games and competed for the Stanley Cup.

“He was mature when he got here, but he’s matured even more,” Sabres coach Don Granato said.

As Tuch and the team improved, expectations increased. He enjoyed a career year last season, scoring 36 goals and 79 points in 74 games.

This season, however, Tuch got off to a slow start, registering zero goals and one assist in the first six games and just one goal in the first 11 contests. He said he wasn’t feeling like himself and seemed to be giving inconsistent efforts.

“I need to be a workhorse, I need to be a game-changer every night to help my team,” Tuch said.

The Sabres, meanwhile, stumbled out of the gate.

“In the beginning of the season, it wasn’t nearly good enough,” Tuch said of his performance. “We’re in the position that we’re in because of us and us alone. I look at myself personally and I put a lot on myself, us being in the position that we’re in now.”

Granato said having developed “the poise and confidence of a veteran player,” Tuch can deal with adversity.

“That means balancing the downs,” he said.

That means shaking off that early-season scoring slump. That also means showcasing leadership throughout a trying season that will likely result in the Sabres missing the playoffs for the 13th consecutive year.

Tuch has recently found a groove, registering three goals and 14 assists in the last 11 games as the Sabres have stayed alive for the Eastern Conference’s second wild card spot.

“He even struggled at the start of the year, and now he’s just kind of found a baseline,” Granato said. “Pretty steady with it, a real positive influence, and a huge impact every night. I think he’s playing his best hockey of his career in the last couple months. He’s just a different level.”

Overall, Tuch has compiled 20 goals and 54 points in 69 games this season, offensive totals that rank fourth and second, respectively, on the team. He plays more than any of the Sabres’ forwards, averaging 19 minutes, 18 seconds an outing.

Tuch and Tage Thompson, his regular center, have recently displayed terrific chemistry alongside JJ Peterka, their new left wing.

“I’m looking for them as much as possible because of their scoring ability, their ability to get open in those small, little areas, I think, has been huge,” Tuch said. “But we’re also … supporting each other all over the ice. We’re trying to have a lot of fun with it, too. When you produce, it’s fun. But we’re holding each other accountable, we’re making sure that we’re all in the same area and in the right spots.”

In Tuesday’s 6-2 win over the Washington Capitals, Tuch created Peterka’s second goal by stripping an opponent from behind. Tuch finished the night with one goal and three points.

“When he’s on his game he’s one of the best in the league, if not the best, at stripping pucks and causing turnovers, and that’s huge for us,” Thompson said.

Granato said Sabres winger Jordan Greenway, who missed Tuesday’s game with an upper-body injury, “is a possibility” to face the Flyers. Greenway did not practice Thursday but skated on his own.

If Greenway can’t play tonight, Granato believes he can return for Sunday afternoon’s road game against the Detroit Red Wings.

Update: Greenway will miss tonight’s game.

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