Center Paul Gaustad had a big night for the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday in the team's first victory of the regular season.
It just may not translate that way on the score sheet.
Although he didn't register a point, Gaustad's contribution on Buffalo's three power play goals in their 6-0 shutout win against the Atlanta Thrashers was none the less substantial.
Doing his best interpretation of a wall, Gaustad pushed his way into Kari Lehtonen's sight lines all night, creating havoc for the Atlanta netminder when his team was a man down.
“It’s probably the most important piece,” Lindy Ruff said of Gaustad's role in the power play's success. “If you look at Thomas [Vanek] on one unit being the guy in front of the net and Paul [Gaustad] in the other unit, you are the guy that has to obstruct the goalie. There are not many goalies in this league that you can with a shot from past the top of the circle unless he has to fight to see it.”
Gaustad has typically been an aggressive player and possesses the size to back it up. However, the six-foot-four, 229-pound forward said this particular role on special teams is a bit unfamiliar.
It's one that he's had to grown into, no pun intended.
“I’ve actually never been in front of the net my whole career. I’ve usually been on the goal line so this is new for me,” he said. “It’s something where it’s a lot more skill and a lot more work than I thought. Just body positioning and getting out of the way of shots, sometimes tipping them… it’s tough, but I’m getting there.”
Ruff agrees that he is well on his way.
“Paul’s job is to make sure he tries to get in that lane to read where the shot is going to come from,” Ruff said. “I thought he did a real good job with that.”
Even with the solid play he displayed in Thursday’s game, Gaustad is the first to admit that there is still room for improvement.
Citing Vanek and Detroit Red Wings’ Tomas Holmstrom as two players he tries to emulate in this position, Gaustad said he has been watching constant video of the pair.
“I think standing in front, the problem with it is everybody says you’ve got to tip the pucks, but you have probably a 220-pound defenseman cross-checking you while you’re trying to time the pucks”
Dodging the puck may prove the most difficult part for Gaustad. The large welt on his ribs serves as a constant reminder.
“It’s tough in front of the net but it’s definitely rewarding,” he said. “It’s a lot of timing and hand-eye coordination, but I like it. I like battling in front and seeing the rewards on the power play.”
“You don’t get rewarded sometimes on the stat sheet,” Ruff said, “but at the end of the night your power play unit can feel pretty good about scoring three goals.”