Pominville nearing a possible return on Saturday

Jason Pominville has missed the last three games after a collision with Rasmus Ristolainen on December 18

Brayton Wilson
December 28, 2018 - 2:02 pm

Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig - USA TODAY Sports

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Buffalo Sabres forward Jason Pominville has missed the last three games due to an injury sustained after a nasty collision with defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen in a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on December 18.

On Friday, Pominville was back on the ice with his teammates and skating on a line with Tage Thompson and Vladimir Sobotka. The 36-year-old looked like he was preparing as though he was ready to return to the lineup on Saturday when the Boston Bruins pay a visit to KeyBank Center. While he says he feels ready, Pominville is just waiting for the confirmation that he will be back in the lineup.

"The way the lines were set up today, I would expect to be playing. I’ve been able to skate and stay active," Pominville said after practice.

"It was a tough stretch, unfortunate couple injuries. But what can you do? It’s part of the game? I guess I’ve been lucky enough to not have to deal with this too much. It’s kind of caught up in a couple-week span. But it’s good to be back."

Pominville and Ristolainen collided near center ice when the winger was coming on to the ice for a shift. He says that he did not see Ristolainen coming before they collided, nor did Ristolainen realize he was running into his teammate.

"Obviously, we didn’t see each other, we would’ve tried to get out of the way," Pominville said. "[Conor Sheary] cut in the middle of us and we just never really saw each other and end up hitting, pretty much, a Finnish wall over there. So it’s a tough guy to hit if you’re going to pick one."

Pominville is hopeful to return to the lineup after the Sabres lost on the road to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday following the Christmas break. The Sabres have yet to find any secondary scoring behind the top line of Jeff Skinner, Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. Eichel was Buffalo's lone goal scorer on Thursday, but his goal came in the second period while the Sabres were on the power play.

Since the Sabres' 10-game winning streak last month, the team has gone 4-6-3 in 13 games, but have managed to maintain a top-three spot in the Atlantic Division. However, the Sabres have only gotten seven goals at even strength from players outside of Skinner, Eichel and Reinhart in that span. Those goals have come from Johan Larsson (2), Zemgus Girgensons (2), Evan Rodrigues, Casey Mittelstadt and Tage Thompson.

A number of Sabres players are currently stuck in some significant scoring slumps:

  • Kyle Okposo has no goals in 19 games (last goal on November 13 against Tampa Bay) and no points in 12 games
  • Vladimir Sobotka has just one point in 21 games
  • Conor Sheary's empty-net goal on Saturday against Anaheim snapped a 16-game goalless drought
  • Casey Mittelstadt has two points in 14 games
  • Tage Thompson has one point in 11 games
  • Evan Rodrigues has two points in 15 games

As for Pominville, it has been since November 13 in Minnesota when he scored his last goal, and he has not registered a point in 11 games.

The 14th-year veteran knows that the team has to stick to what has made them successful, and eventually the work will result in some more depth scoring.

"I think we’ve given up too much of the rush. Being heavier on the puck in the offensive zone, getting to zone one, the danger area in front of the net," Pominville said. "If you want to score, that’s where you got to go. If you look at some of the goals last night, that’s where they were scored. When we’re going well, we’re heavy on the puck, we defend well and we go to the dirty areas to get that primary chance and then those secondary opportunities as well."

As of Friday, the Sabres currently sit three points ahead of the Bruins in the Atlantic Division with 47 points after Boston and Buffalo lost on Thursday night. Buffalo currently trails the Toronto Maple Leafs for second in the Atlantic by five points. Tampa Bay is running away in the Eastern Conference, leading the Sabres by 13 points for first place.

The Montreal Canadiens are just one point behind Boston as they sit in the second and last wild card spot in the East. They will play the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Florida on Friday night. 

Over the next seven games before heading out for a three-game road trip through Western Canada, Buffalo will face teams that are all fighting for a playoff position, including another matchup with the Bruins on January 5, and a matchup with the Lightning on January 12.

Pominville knows that the next handful of games will be a challenge, and that points won't come so easy if the team can't improve their secondary scoring.

"We’re in a good spot, we’ve worked hard to get to this spot, but it’s only going to get harder," Pominville said. "Games are going to be tighter, opponents are going to be harder, they’re going to be more desperate as the season moves along here. We’ve earned the right to be where we’re at. But at the same time, there’s a still a lot of work to be done. It’ll fun to see the team grow through this adversity, challenge of seeing teams ready to play us. Maybe at the start when we were winning we might’ve caught teams off guard a little bit. But now that they know they come in here, they’re going to face a good team, they’re going to face a team that depth that plays well and plays hard. You got to make sure you rise to the occasions and it’s going to be challenge.

"You want to make sure you push them back. But the biggest thing for us is worrying about our game and getting back to playing the way we know we’re capable of and playing the way that led to us having success. We’ve slipped away a little bit from it."

At practice on Friday, Zemgus Girgensons, Rasmus Ristolainen and Linus Ullmark were all given maintenance days by Sabres head coach Phil Housley. The Sabres head coach also said that Saturday is a possibility for Pominville to get back into the lineup.

"It tough because with our schedule, we haven't had a lot of practice time coming off the break," Housley said. "He had a good practice today, I liked the way he responded out there. He could be a possibility to play tomorrow. We'll see and check with our trainers later on in the day."

Here is how the lines looked for the Sabres on Friday:

 

Skinner - Eichel - Reinhart

Sheary - Mittelstadt - Okposo

Thompson - Sobotka - Pominville

Elie - Larsson - Rodrigues


Scandella - Dahlin

Beaulieu - Bogosian

McCabe - Hunwick

 

Lawrence Pilut was working in on the Nathan Beaulieu-Zach Bogosian pairing, and was also doing some work on the power play. It would appear that the 22-year-old may be a healthy scratch for Saturday's game if Ristolainen is back for the Sabres.

Scott Wilson was also practicing again with the team, but he served as the extra forward.

Here is how the power play units looked at practice:

 

PP1: Skinner - Eichel - Reinhart / Pilut - Dahlin

PP2: Sheary - Mittelstadt - Okposo / Beaulieu - Rodrigues

 

The Sabres will return to the ice on Saturday for the morning skate around 10:30 a.m.

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