When the winger was recalled by the Buffalo Sabres to help take on the Washington Capitals, he was given explicit instructions from Head Coach Lindy Ruff: As soon as he got the puck down low, Gerbe was to try and shoot it on net to try and create a bounce for an incoming defenseman.
Ruff and Gerbe even worked on the play during the morning skate, with the help of Drew Stafford
and Tim Kennedy, for a good portion of practice to help him get acclimated.
But Gerbe had a different idea: “He didn’t follow instructions,” Ruff joked. “He put it in.”
Netting the Sabres’ second point in a 3-0 shutout against the Caps, Gerbe claimed his first career NHL goal with 5:18 left in the second frame, banking a shot off Jose Theodore's pads from the side of the net.
The goal was a relief for the 22-year-old winger, who has been known as a perennial scorer throughout his career [In three years at Boston College, Gerbe registered 71 goals and 133 points with the Eagles. In his rookie season in the American Hockey Leage, he net 56 points (30+26) in 57 games with the Portland Pirates].
At the NHL level, however, the goals haven’t been so easy to come by. Gerbe was recalled twice to Buffalo in 2008-09 for a total of 10 games, and was unable to score a goal, finishing with only one assist before being reassigned to Portland.
It was again a factor in training camp this year as Gerbe – along with defenseman Mike Weber
– was the final cut prior to the start of the regular season. Ruff said repeatedly that in order for the 5-foot-6 winger to be effective in the NHL, it has to be as a goal scorer on one of the top two lines.
The frustration for Gerbe was easy to notice.
“But now you know you can score in this League,” Gerbe said Wednesday night. “It’s a huge confidence-booster. The weight is off my back and I can finally breathe a little bit.”
Gerbe was arguably one of the Sabres top forwards in the victory over Washington, as he also added an assist on Steve Montador’s goal and provided a lot of energy in 14:28 minutes of ice time.
He knows the work is far from over, but he has at least learned one important technique:
“Coach has always told me, and my linemates have told me, to shoot the puck on net and good things happen,” he said. “That’s where it starts.”
“I said this morning we were looking for a spark, and we got a spark,” Ruff said. “Anytime a young player comes up… their enthusiasm is contagious.”