ST. PAUL, Minn. — Jason Pominville was all smiles when greeting Buffalo reporters and Sabres staff Thursday morning. That’s just the personality of the former Sabres captain and it was especially true when it was mentioned to him that Thursday was Pominville Bobblehead night in XCel Energy Center.
“I gotta get my hands on a few of those,” Pominville said. “Probably a hot ticket. It’s pretty funny. I had one in Rochester. I’ll have to see which one looks like me the most.”
While Pominville is having an excellent season with a team-high 17 goals, there are troubled times here. The Minnesota Wild winger and former Buffalo captain was snubbed by the U.S. Olympic team on Wednesday.
Of greater note is the state of his team, which had lost a franchise-record six straight games in regulation before Thursday’s win over the Sabres. Coach Mike Yeo is reportedly on a very hot seat as the Wild had fallen into 10th place in the West before earning a very needed victory. But Minnesota still has one more loss than win.
The Wild slipped into crisis mode Sunday when they blew a 3-0 lead to the New York Islanders and lost, 5-4, becoming the first team to lose to the Isles when leading by three goals since 1994.
“Struggling offensively you want to score more goals and be that guy,” Pominville said. “It leads to you doing things you normally don’t do. The Islander game is a good example of it. It’s not the way we want to play. It shows we have to play defense first to win games.”
The Wild moved to four new forward lines for Thursday’s game with Pominville moving up to the top line with Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu. Yeo said he’s shifted Pominville around all season, always with good results.
“He always does it with a smile on his face. He doesn’t seem to mind,” Yeo said. “When you have a player like that who is as smart as he is and effective as he is you can put him on any line.”
Pominville said he was not surprised that he was bypassed by USA Hockey despite his good numbers and strong two-way game.
“I kind of figured they would go with guys who have been in the program a long time, who have played in World Juniors and that,” he said. “I’m not surprised at all.”
“I get a chance to work with him every day and I see what he can bring,” Yeo said. “I’m disappointed for him.”
Pominville on owner Terry Pegula’s Nov. 13 firings of Darcy Regier and Ron Rolston, which took place a month after he returned to First Niagara Center:
“Terry is a businessmen and was going to take his time and make the right decisions. When you take a step back, you have to feel happy for the franchise that they got a guy like Patty LaFontaine in there. He played there. From the times I’ve met him, he’s just a great person. He wants to do a lot of good things.
“Terry likes to bring back the old players and get them involved. If you have to pick a better player than that to get involved, it would be tough.”
As you would expect, NBC Sports reported that Detroit led all American markets for Wednesday’s Winter Classic game between the Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs with an 18.0 rating.
No. 2? Buffalo with a 7.2 – a number that’s undoubtedly lower than it might be because viewers watching on CBC aren’t counted. Pittsburgh was third at 7.0 followed by St. Louis (4.4) and Chicago (4.3).
In a story released Wednesday, ESPN.com revealed inside discussions on the selection process compiled over the last four months as it was provided insider access.
Calgary Flames president Brian Burke, a longtime USA Hockey executive and regular visitor to First Niagara Center, is quoted as heavily backing the play of Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller. “Their team is a train wreck. He’s seeing a lot of rubber,” Burke said in the story “He’s been magnificent. I think the worst job right now would be the starting goaltender in Buffalo.”
The Sabres were without the injured Henrik Tallinder, Ville Leino, Cody Hodgson, Cody McCormick and Kevin Porter. Brayden McNabb was a healthy scratch.
Captain Steve Ott, who has taken a couple of maintenance days off in practice, sat out the morning skate Thursday but did play.
Tyler Myers wore an alternate captain’s ‘A’ for the second straight game in place of Tallinder.
Center Johan Larsson rejoined the Sabres from Rochester after arriving Wednesday from Switzerland, where the Amerks played in the Spengler Cup. Larsson played one game here last season before the Wild traded him to Buffalo in the Pominville deal.
“It’s been a rollercoaster for sure with all the travel but it’s going to be fun to play this building,” said Larsson.
Larsson centered Linus Omark and Marcus Foligno in the spot Leino has been playing.
The Amerks announced they have signed Buffalo native Nick Tuzzolino to another professional tryout contract. The 27-year-old has has scored one goal in nine games with the Amerks this season after signing his first PTO on Nov. 29. He has also appeared in 17 ECHL games with the Fort Wayne Komets and Elmira Jackals this season.