BUFFALO, N.Y. - As competitive as he is, Josh Gorges understands the Buffalo Sabres probably won't make run to the Eastern Conference final like the one he enjoyed with the Montreal Canadiens last season.
"It's a process," Gorges said. "It's not a one-day, fix-all, now all of a sudden we're a top-tier Stanley Cup-contending team overnight."
The expectations in Montreal and Buffalo are like night and day for Gorges and former Canadiens captain Brian Gionta. While the Canadiens are one of the top teams in the East again, the Sabres are in full rebuilding mode with an eye toward the future.
Gionta is the Sabres' captain just as he was for the Canadiens, and Gorges is an alternate again, too. And while these situations couldn't be more drastically different, Gorges doesn't believe his or Gionta's leadership style has changed.
"Whether the team changes around you, it shouldn't change you," Gorges said Wednesday morning as he prepared to play his former team for the first time. "if you start changing yourself, it becomes phony. It's not real, it's not true. Whatever we did in Montreal, we're the same people here in Buffalo. We use our experiences, try to help out, try to be vocal, lead by example. All those things that we did in Montreal, we continue to try to do here."
It's difficult to say it's working as the Sabres are 3-9-1 with seven points, the fewest in the NHL. But coach Ted Nolan said Gorges and Gionta have delivered the kind of veteran presence they were expected to bring to a young, struggling group.
"The way we want it to go is certainly what Gorges and Gionta bring," Nolan told reporters in Buffalo on Tuesday. "The way we started wasn't the way we wanted to start. But their character and leadership hasn't faltered, hasn't changed. We all got to step up in the same mould. They're doing a great job for us."
Gionta has just one point (an assist) and Gorges none for the Sabres, whose 1.08 goals a game is dead-last in the league.
"It always is frustrating," Gionta said of his recent slump. "You want to help the team win, be a part of that."
Part of Gionta's leadership at this point is showing some of Buffalo's younger players how to handle the lean times. Gorges is impressed with how his friend and longtime teammate is doing that.
"You go through these ups and downs throughout the course of the year and it's how you handle yourself, how do you conduct yourself," Gorges said. "Do you pout and sit in a corner and feel sorry for yourself or do you get back to work? You keep pushing forward, you come to the rink with an energetic outlook on things and keep trying to fight to find that success."
Gionta has had scoring success before. He had 18 goals and 22 assists last season for the Canadiens, his third 40-point season in four full, 82-game seasons in Montreal.
After signing a US$12.75-million, three-year contract in the off-season, Gionta said he was looking forward to this new chapter, which includes facing his former teammates. For Gorges, Montreal is also in the rear-view mirror but the defenceman said he'll maintain many friends for decades
"It was a great time for me: seven and a half years and I got to experience a lot, good and bad, the ups and downs," Gorges said. "We had turnover a couple different times. You meet a lot of good people and I met a lot of good people along the way within the organization, outside in the city, a lot of special moments for me from my time in Montreal."
Buffalo is an entirely different experience. While fans pine for a high draft pick and the chance to select Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, it's Gorges' job to block out outside chatter.
But he's no dummy. He knows the limelight isn't as bright and the bar isn't as high.
"Understanding the situation that we're in, people here are probably a little more forgiving of wins and losses and record, whereas in Montreal we know that that's not the case," Gorges said. "There's no doubt about it, the fans in Montreal they want wins every night, and that's good. At the same time we've got a great fan base here in Buffalo. They're going to support this team and be there for us no matter what."
With three years left on his contract after this one, Gorges hopes he can be part of eventually getting the Sabres to the level the Canadiens have been at.
"The biggest thing for us in this group is to believe in that process and to be committed to working toward something great," Gorges said. "I think if we sit here and wait for someone else to come in ??? OK, we made this move, now we're a great team ??? it's not going to happen. We can't look to the guy beside us and say, 'He's going to do the job and I'll just be along for the ride.'
"Every guy in this room has to commit to being a good team, to doing the right things."
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