With their top offensive line in a funk, the Buffalo Sabres still managed to squeeze enough juice from their offense to get two wins in Florida.
They go for their first three-game winning streak of the season today in First Niagara Center against the New Jersey Devils and secondary scoring will continue to be a point of emphasis. They will need more breakout performances like the one winger Nathan Gerbe put together in Thursday’s 4-3 shootout win at Florida.
Gerbe scored his first two goals of the season, putting together his first multi-goal game since April 8, 2011. Still working into game shape after summer back surgery, Gerbe had been skating better in recent games and creating scoring chances. The goals almost seemed like a matter of time.
“I tried not to focus on a breakout game,” Gerbe said Friday after the Sabres’ brief practice in the Northtown Center at Amherst. “My focus is on the initial process of working hard, skating hard and doing my best to create chances and using my work ethic to help get this team going.”
The 5-foot-5 Gerbe has been much more like his usual pest self in recent games. He has nine shots on goal in the last four games and garnered a season-high 17:07 of ice time Thursday.
“His energy level has been really good,” said interim coach Ron Rolston. “He was making a lot happen with his feet and getting to pucks first and that’s the start. That’s the start for our team, trying to get first touches and having that kind of energy. He’s had it lately.”
Gerbe had 16 goals in the 2010-11 season, his first full one in the NHL. But he slumped to just six goals in 62 games last year – including only one in his last 21 games. So chalk up 16 scoreless games to open this season and Gerbe had just one goal in 37 games until Thursday.
Gerbe opened the scoring at 6:30 of the first period after streaking down the right wing into the Florida zone past Peter Mueller, stopping and then firing a quick wrist shot that deflected off Mueller into the net. He scored again at 16:46 of the first beating goalie Scott Clemmensen with a quick snapshot to the top corner just before he crashed into the end boards.
“He’s got a little life, a little energy,” said captain Jason Pominville. “He’s actually been moving his feet well, skating well and making plays. He got a bounce on the first one, made a great play on the second one. It’s nice to see a guy get rewarded with all the work he put in.”
Gerbe actually turned away a good chance at a hat trick opportunity, making an ill-advised pass to Tyler Ennis on a 2-on-1 late in the third period with Buffalo protecting its one-goal lead. The Panthers eventually tied the game but the Sabres survived in the shootout.
“I should have shot,” Gerbe said. “I drifted away from the net and tried to make a pass to Tyler. If the pass connects, Tyler has a good chance with an open net. But a tight game like that, I have to shoot the puck and try to score and ease the pressure on our team.”
“Where he was at, he had a great opportunity to shoot the puck and made a lower percentage play,” Rolston said. “But that’s part of the process.”
Gerbe missed the first two games of the season after his July back surgery, with the lockout essentially saving him a 30-plus-game absence. He wasn’t very noticeable when he returned in long stretches. That changed when he engaged Toronto captain Dion Phaneuf in a brief tussle last week in Air Canada Centre and Gerbe has been better offensively as well.
“I’m a player that plays with fire,” Gerbe said. “I try to walk that fine line of being aggressive and not being undisciplined out there. That’s my game, it’s to agitate, create energy and create scoring chances.”