In Ted Nolan’s everyone-gets-a-chance first month as the Buffalo Sabres’ interim coach, the only player who seemed to be buried was defenseman Jamie McBain.
Nolan wanted to see youngsters like Mark Pysyk and Brayden McNabb play. He wanted to see how much Alexander Sulzer could contribute. And he kept trying to see if Mike Weber could snap his funk.
As Nolan admitted recently of McBain, “He had the least amount of problems at the beginning. We had to fix the other guys.”
McBain, 25, played in Nolan’s first four games here, then sat as a healthy scratch for four straight before finally getting a chance as the calendar turned to December. All of a sudden, he’s playing big-time minutes on a top-four defensive pairing with Christian Ehrhoff.
“I feel good, very confident in my game and very confident now in the fact the coaches are giving me an opportunity to play those bigger minutes,” McBain said after Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss to Calgary in First Niagara Center. “Especially playing with ‘Hoff,’ he’s obviously a great player who gives you that chance. Being able to play those kind of minutes alongside of him has been a lot of fun for me.
“It’s put my confidence where it should be. I feel good with the puck, I feel good in our ability to work together and get pucks up to the forwards.”
McBain played 24 minutes, 3 seconds in Saturday’s game, including 6:17 of power-play time. He’s averaging 23:20 in the last five outings, with a career-high of 26:16 set in Thursday’s 2-1 loss at Ottawa.
Acquired during the draft in June for Andrej Sekera as part of the trade that saw the Sabres move up in the second round, McBain has two goals and four assists in 21 games. He played back-to-back 76-game seasons for Carolina in 2010-11 and 2011-12, and played 40 games in last year’s lockout season.
Considered largely a power-play specialist, McBain has surprised Nolan in recent games with his five-on-five play and is trying to show he can be counted on as a regular.
“I want to be a go-to power play guy but at the same time I pride myself a lot on defensive responsibilities,” he said. “I’m making sure I’m taking care of my end first. I want to have a good stick, good body position and hopefully that’s showing in my play.”
McBain was disappointed to be on the ice for both Calgary goals Saturday, including Matt Stajan’s overtime winner.
“He kind of came off the bench and when that happens, it can be tough to sort out defensively,” he said. “No one is chasing that man when he’s suddenly in the play and there he is.”
Still, McBain is part of a defensive crew that has been much improved in recent games. The Sabres are still basically not scoring at all, but have points in four of their last seven games while only allowing 27 shots on goal against in those games.
That number had been over 36 for much of the season.
“It’s the mentality Teddy brought in. It’s making sure everyone is accountable in the D zone,” McBain said. “The talking and communication has been a lot better and that makes a big difference in this stretch.”
The Sabres were off Sunday and return to the ice today to prepare for Tuesday’s visit by the Winnipeg Jets.
The Jets, in their first season in the Western Conference after spending the previous two years in the East, are coming off Saturday’s 6-4 loss to Lindy Ruff-led Dallas.
Winnipeg will be without forward Anthony Peluso, who was suspended for three games Sunday for a boarding infraction against Dallas defenseman Alex Goligoski.
The Sabres have scored two or fewer goals in 11 of their last 12 games. They have scored just 18 goals in Nolan’s 13 games and are 3-8-2. … The Sabres killed all four of Calgary’s power plays and have gone 15 for 16 in that department in the last seven games. The power play, however, went 0 for 5 and is 2 for 27 in the last nine games. … The Sabres are just 2-9-1 against Western Conference teams. The only East club that is worse is Ottawa (1-9-2).