For several weeks, not a lot went right offensively for Kevin Porter after he joined the Buffalo Sabres. He arrived on Feb. 21 in Toronto, the same day Ron Rolston was promoted to take over as coach for Lindy Ruff, and didn’t have a point in his first eight games.
In fact, Porter had no goals and just two assists in his first 19 games before finally breaking through for two goals in the April 2 win at Pittsburgh. He hasn’t slowed down since.
Porter converted a nifty goalmouth pass from Brian Flynn for the Sabres’ final goal of Sunday’s 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, and it gave him four goals, seven points and a plus-8 rating over the last seven games.
“I don’t know what the reason was,” Porter said of the early drought upon his return to the NHL after spending 4½ months captaining the Rochester Americans. “Early on it just wasn’t going in and I wasn’t even getting too many chances. But it seems like I’m getting more chances, our line is playing well. We’re getting the chances and they’re going in.”
Porter was a 14-goal scorer two years ago for the Colorado Avalanche. He had 15 goals and 44 points in 48 games in Rochester. And he had 33 goals and 63 points in just 43 games for the University of Michigan in 2007-08, when he won the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s top player. The 27-year-old has skills and success on his resume.
And now it’s coming through, as he’s essentially centering the Sabres’ second line with Flynn and Steve Ott.
“He’s just competitive and he brings the same thing every night for us,” Rolston said. “He’s earned everything that he’s gotten so far. He’s been a big positive since I’ve been here with the consistency he’s played with and the compete every night.”
Porter’s goal Sunday initially came after he led Flynn too far with a pass on a two-on-one break. Flynn tracked the puck to the corner and Porter didn’t give up on the play, going hard to the net and taking Flynn’s pass.
“It wasn’t an ideal play. I didn’t make a great pass to him but he stuck with it,” Porter said. “And I still had a little bit of time, and I was going to the net. He made a great pass, and luckily it went in.”
Rookie defenseman Chad Ruhwedel had a brief scare in the second period, leaving a trail of blood on the ice as he hustled to the dressing room when he was whacked by the stick of Tampa Bay’s Benoit Pouliot.
Ruhwedel, playing his second NHL game after being signed Saturday from UMass Lowell, was carrying the puck down the right-wing boards in the Tampa zone when Pouliot nailed him and no penalty was called. The Sabres bench was infuriated enough, but then Pouliot went to the other end and tipped home Eric Brewer’s shot for Tampa’s only goal.
“Some guy came from my left side and kind of got me right across the mouth,” said Ruhwedel, who had a gash on the left side of his chin. “It was kind of weird. I didn’t know that guy ended up scoring on the play. I had no idea. It’s kind of unfortunate.”
Ruhwedel played 11:15 in the game, had three shots on goal and an even rating. He played exactly 13 minutes in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Philadelphia.
“I had to pinch myself for a while there. I got a good night’s sleep [Saturday], which was nice,” he said. “It took a while to fall asleep though. Yesterday was a tough day but it was nice coming in here and getting a win and then following it up with another one.”
Defenseman Christian Ehrhoff played a game-high 26 minutes, the 15th time this year he’s hit or exceeded 26. Ehrhoff entered the game 16th in the NHL in ice time at 25:04.
Porter (18:56), Flynn (18:32) and defenseman Mark Pysyk (18:30) all topped their career highs for ice time. John Scott (10:43) saw his most as a Sabre and had a season-high three shots on goal.
The Lightning are 3-4-2 under Jon Cooper, who replaced Guy Boucher on March 29. Buffalo is 12-9-5 under Rolston after going 6-10-1 under Ruff. … The Sabres improved to 3-9-2 against the Southeast Division with one game left, the April 22 visit by Winnipeg. Sunday’s game was the last meeting between Buffalo and Tampa Bay as non-division foes; the Lightning, Florida Panthers and Detroit Red Wings will join the current Northeast Division in a currently unnamed grouping next season. … Until Sunday’s win, the Sabres had been just 1-5-1 in the second game of back-to-back sets. … Luke Adam was Buffalo’s lone healthy scratch. … Angola native Patrick Kaleta played his 299th career game and will hit 300 Wednesday in Boston.