MONTREAL — Much of Jason Pominville’s career has been defined by consistency. The Buffalo Sabres’ captain might go a few games without an assist or a handful without a goal, then he quickly returns to the score sheet.
But an eight-game goal drought? That’s rare. A slide of 14 games without an assist? That’s as common as Bigfoot dropping the ceremonial faceoff.
Pominville endured both slumps recently. It weighed on him, primarily because he wasn’t helping the team win.
“It’s bugging you when you lose,” he said Friday. “Losing sucks a lot of energy out of you. You’re trying to figure out what to do, but at the same time I don’t think my play had varied at all. I think I was still doing things that led to me to get points.
“I wasn’t scoring when I had chances. Guys weren’t scoring when I made plays. A lot of that has to fall into it, but as long as we’re winning now and getting back to where we want to be and playing better hockey, it puts a smile on everyone’s face and makes life a lot easier for everyone.”
The Sabres visit Montreal and Bell Centre tonight on a 3-1-1 run, and not coincidentally Pominville has returned to the stat sheet.
He has four points in the five games, snapping the goal and assist droughts along the way.
He scored Thursday during a 5-4 shootout victory over Toronto. He skated along the top of the crease and buried a nice feed from Cody Hodgson for his 10th goal and first since March 2.
The point-blank chances had been lacking until then.
“When we played together, there was a lot on the outside,” said left wing Thomas Vanek, who is expected to return after missing a game with a hip injury. “He got in the hole and got rewarded.”
Pominville points to a role change on the power play for his rare extended slumps. His reacquaintance with the blue line has had its shaky moments after he spent most of last season down low.
“A lot of times I’m the furthest guy from the net on the power play,” he said. “It’s tough when you see other guys score from within 5 feet and you’re all the way back, but if that’s an area I can help the team, I’m fine with scoring less and being up top and doing whatever I can to help out.”
Seven of Pominville’s 23 points have come with the man advantage, which would translate to 18 over an 82-game season.
He had 26 power-play points last year.
“I was pretty consistent at putting in power-play points up front,” Pominville said. “I think sometimes you might not have the game you want to have, but you get a rebound in front of the net on the power play and you end up scoring a goal, and then you get confidence and it goes from there.
“At times it’s been a little bit frustrating where you’re all the way back on the blue line and if things aren’t going your way you can’t get that rebound and you can’t get anything around the net, no action. But again, whatever I can do to help, that’s where I am, and I’ve got to figure it out.”
He’s pleased the team has begun to figure things out. They flew to Montreal in 11th place, a large step from the 15th spot they languished in for a while.
“Flipping it around and winning games makes life so much better for everyone, a better atmosphere in practice, a better atmosphere in the room,” he said.
Vanek and coach Ron Rolston both said it’s too early to start looking at the standings for comfort, though.
Although they were just four points behind Carolina for the final playoff spot (with one extra game played), the Sabres are still far from where they want to be.
“We don’t have to kid ourselves,” Vanek said. “Four points doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a lot because teams are playing each other and gaining points in front of you. Most guys realize how hard it is to catch up. All we can worry about is tomorrow to get another two points and just get lucky.”
The Sabres’ leading scorer feels fortunate to be back so soon. Vanek thought he broke his hip Tuesday when teammate Christian Ehrhoff plunked him with a slap shot in Montreal.
“I got hit on the bone, and it just kind of froze me for two days. I couldn’t move, couldn’t do anything,” said Vanek, who began feeling better Thursday night and got most of his flexibility back Friday morning.
“As of right now I feel good.”
Defenseman Andrej Sekera is expected to miss his fourth straight game with an upper-body injury.
“We’ll see how he is in the morning again and make a decision from there,” Rolston said, “but probably likely it’d be next week.”