One of the most talked about players for the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday wasn’t even on the ice.
Mikhail Grigorenko was back in Buffalo and skated with the team in the morning but did not play after returning to North America from a stint at the World Junior Championships.
His teammates struggled offensively Thursday night, blowing a 1-0 lead in the third period and losing, 2-1, in a shootout to the Florida Panthers in front of 17,872 at First Niagara Center.
It was the lesser news of the day after the organization announced the hiring of Tim Murray as general manager. And among the immediate questions that Murray needs to address is what to do with Grigorenko.
Should the 19-year-old forward stay with the Sabres and hone his game at the NHL level or return to major juniors, where he still has eligibility remaining, to dominate among players his own age?
“That’s a big decision here. … I’m not going to tell you guys where we’re leaning on doing,” Murray said in his introductory news conference Thursday morning. “In all honesty, I got here last night and started talking about scenarios and we’re past the point of having four different scenarios. There’s two scenarios and we’ll decide on one of those two very quickly.”
There’s no question of where Grigorenko wants to be – in Buffalo.
“I really want to stay here,” Grigorenko said. “I did everything they wanted me to do. I didn’t really complain much. I just knew it was the best thing in the moment but hopefully I’m done with traveling. I just want to stay here.”
Grigorenko was officially on loan to the Russian national junior team. It was the third straight appearance at the world juniors for Grigorenko who also was part of the Russian team that lost, 1-0 in overtime, to Sweden in the 2012 gold medal game.
This year, he led Russia in scoring with eight points (five goals, three assists) in seven games as Russia defeated Canada in the bronze medal game.
“When we lost in the semifinals we were all disappointed and so empty inside and just destroyed. Especially me,” Grigorenko said. “It was my third year. I really wanted to win gold. I was really disappointed. I think it was good for us that Canada lost in the semifinals too. It was easier to get ready for them.”
For his part, Grigorenko feels he’s ready to be in the NHL.
While his stats were solid for Russia, he said he felt he played a complete game at the World Junior Championships.
“I thought maybe previous I was playing more offensively and didn’t really think about defense or little details like winning faceoffs,” Grigorenko said. “But this year I think I played a really good two-way game. I thought I played good defensively. I was also playing on the penalty kill. I thought I was a more complete player. I was doing a lot of good stuff for the team offensively and defensively. “
On the ice Thursday night, meanwhile, it was Jamie McBain who gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead at 5:13 of the second, firing a shot in the slot off the post and past Florida goaltender Tim Thomas. Steve Ott set up McBain, rushing down the left side and passing to the defenseman, who jumped up in the play.
Sabres goaltender Jhonas Enroth played an outstanding game but had little offensive support. Florida scored with 10:44 left in the third after numerous rebounds. The puck finally ended up on the stick of Tim Gilbert, who snapped it with Brad Boyes tipping the shot past Enroth.
Boyes scored the only goal in the shootout, beating Enroth on a shot off the post that bounced off the Buffalo netminder’s leg.
The loss spoiled a spectacular performance for Enroth, who finished with 34 saves on 35 shots as he again failed to get goal support.
“I’m running out of answers on those questions,” Enroth said when asked about the lack of offensive production in his starts.
“We had a couple good chances but we don’t put the pucks away so it’s not really Grade-A chances for us. I don’t know. I think probably Florida played a little better than us. … It’s tough to win with this team.”
Enroth fell to 1-8-4 with his only win coming Oct. 25 when the Sabres played the Panthers in Florida.
“Almost every game he’s played for us he’s given us a chance to win,” coach Ted Nolan said. “Tonight I thought he was sensational. If there was any game your goaltender could steal the game, tonight was one of those nights. We didn’t give him too much help in front.”
The Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes will play at 7 p.m. on Feb. 25 at First Niagara Center to make up the game that was postponed due to blizzard conditions earlier this week. The game is on the final day of the 17-day Olympic break.
Brayden McNabb was named to the AHL All-Star roster for the league’s All-Star Classic. The defenseman played 19 games with the Amerks this season, where he led all defensemen in points with 12 (two goals, 10 assists.)