Zemgus Girgensons always appears to be on a mission to prove something. The 19-year-old rookie forward scored a highlight-reel goal against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday, his first since the season opener, taking two Habs defensemen with him as he drove to the net and beat goaltender Carey Price.
After practice at First Niagara Center on Monday, he tried to downplay the personal significance of that early third-period goal, which put Buffalo back in the game. Ultimately, however, they lost to the Canadiens 3-2.
“Probably the best confidence booster for all of us would be a win,” he said. “[It was] definitely nice to get a goal and the whole team is struggling with them, so it’s definitely nice to get one.”
Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan switched up the lines at practice Monday and moved Girgensons up with center Tyler Ennis and left wing Matt Moulson. Girgensons knows that he’s going to have to keep going to the blue paint while playing a hard-nosed style in order to have continued success.
“Every game, I can’t let my work ethic go down because that’s pretty much why I’m here,” Girgensons said. “When I do something like that, it just shows people that I can be here.”
WATCH: ZEMGUS GIRGENSONS INTERVIEW
Nolan has been vocally supportive of Girgensons’ play since he took over behind the bench last month. He also serves at the Latvian national coach and had the opportunity to work with Girgensons during the IIHF World Championship in the spring, so he’s quite familiar with Girgensons and his style.
“One thing you can’t teach him is the ability to work,” Nolan said. “He competes on a daily basis and it’s great to see him getting rewarded for his work lately.”
Nolan completely broke up the Sabres’ top line of Moulson, center Cody Hodgson and right wing Drew Stafford. Hodgson found himself with Luke Adam and Matt D’Agostini. Stafford skated with Steve Ott and Marcus Foligno. Nolan said he would like to try Ott at center.
“Our top line had a little trouble, maybe the chemistry wasn’t quite right so we talked to them and we decided that instead of having one [scoring line], we’ll try to have three,” Nolan said. “We have to get this thing turned around together. It’s not going to be one or two individuals, it’s going to have to be a collective response. Hopefully this works.”
Hodgson said he played with Adam when both were with the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League last season. With Adam’s penchant for going to the net, Hodgson thinks he can create a strong connection with him and D’Agostini.
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“Chemistry’s just a huge part of this game. Sometimes it’s instant, sometimes it takes a little while to develop,” Hodgson said. “It doesn’t matter which line you’re playing with, you’ve got to play your game and maybe we’ll adapt or mesh and hopefully it does.”
Each line wears a different colored jersey at practice and Ville Leino was one of four forwards skating in yellow Monday morning. Brian Flynn, Cody McCormick and John Scott were the others.
“We need to get certain people playing better,” Nolan said. “Playing OK is not good enough. We have to play better.”
Defenseman Alexander Sulzer skated with the team for the first time since sustaining an upper-body injury against the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 30. He’ been on injured reserve and Nolan said that Sulzer would not be available for the team’s home game against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday.
Brayden McNabb will return to the lineup, according to Nolan. McNabb’s been a healthy scratch for the Sabres the past four games. In one game with the Amerks during that stretch, he recorded a goal and two assists.
Amerks defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen was named to the selection camp roster of the Finnish National Junior Team on Monday. He would need to get the green light from the Sabres in order to participate.
“I’m quite sure we’ll give [him] permission to play there,” Nolan said.
Granted, he would also need to be healthy enough to go. He’s been out of the Amerks lineup since sustaining what the team is calling an upper-body injury on Nov. 29.
The 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship will take place from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 in Malmo, Sweden. Sabres center Mikhail Grigorenko is currently in Russia's selection camp with defenseman Nikita Zadorov. J.T. Compher has been named to Team USA’s preliminary roster and Gustav Possler has been named to the preliminary roster for Sweden.
26 Matt Moulson – 63 Tyler Ennis – 28 Zemgus Girgensons
82 Marcus Foligno – 9 Steve Ott – 21 Drew Stafford
72 Luke Adam – 19 Cody Hodgson – 27 Matt D’Agostini
32 John Scott – 8 Cody McCormick – 23 Ville Leino – 65 Brian Flynn
Defensemen: 3 Mark Pysyk, 4 Jamie McBain, 6 Mike Weber, 10 Christian Ehrhoff, 20 Henrik Tallinder, 44 Brayden McNabb, 57 Tyler Myers
30 Ryan Miller
1 Jhonas Enroth
Moulson – Hodgson – Ennis
McBain / Ehrhoff
Foligno – Ott – Stafford
McNabb / Myers