Don’t get the wrong idea. Sabres center Zemgus Girgensons said Thursday he loves the support from his homeland of Latvia. And obviously from Buffalo too.
But his message when it comes to the All-Star Game this year is pretty much thanks-but-no-thanks.
That was the message he tweeted Wednesday, telling folks in Latvia not to vote for him for this year’s All-Star Game. With a clear push from his home country, Girgensons was selected for last year’s game in Columbus but doesn’t want a similar situation for this season’s game in Nashville.
“All due respect to fans, it’s just something that you have to deserve,” Girgensons said Thursday in First Niagara Center. “How it went last year, I don’t want to repeat that. It’s a lot of pressure on me and something that’s not earned right now.
“It was mixed emotions, different emotions,” he said. “It’s not something I got too much satisfaction out of and something I don’t want to repeat this year.”
Girgensons has just two goals and two assists this season but his rating in 21 games is just minus-1. The Sabres clearly missed him defensively and on faceoffs when he missed four games due to an injury last month.
“I don’t think I’ve played bad. I’ve stuck with it,” he said. “My offensive production hasn’t been where it was last year but I think I’ve done a pretty decent job overall. I hope I can get more chances at scoring and making plays.”
The last time the Arizona Coyotes were in First Niagara Center was on March 26 and it was one of the most bizarre games in Sabres’ history. Arizona won it in overtime, 4-3, in a game that made national news because Sabres fans openly cheered for the visitors to win as the teams were battling for 30th place overall.
Buffalo tied the game in the late going on a Brian Gionta goal after a Shane Doan turnover and could have won in regulation had Zach Bogosian scored with 1:47 left after he got in alone on Arizona goalie Mike Smith. Instead, the Coyotes won on Sam Gagner’s power-play goal after 56 seconds of OT.
The Sabres finished two points behind Arizona, so a Bogosian goal producing a regulation win would have created a three-point swing and in the standings. As it turned out, that could have put Buffalo out of the running to land Jack Eichel.
Things are different this year. The Sabres are 10-12-3 while the Coyotes are the surprise of the West, holding the last playoff spot. They were 13-10-1 entering Thursday’s game in Detroit.
“Both organizations are moving up and trying to have a lot more success,” said Sabres forward Sam Reinhart. “They have a lot of young guys and skill up front and we’re going to be ready for it. It will be an exciting game.”
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said winger Tyler Ennis (upper body) and defenseman Mark Pysyk (lower body) are both now on a week-to-week basis for a return.
Neither is practicing with the team, although the coach didn’t classify either as suffering a setback. Ennis has missed the last four games while Pysyk has sat out the last seven.
Tim Schaller has been returned to Rochester, where the Amerks have a back-to-back Friday and Saturday. Schaller had two assists in six games for Buffalo.
Bylsma had high praise for Arizona defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, calling the 24-year-old Swede the most underrated blueliner in the NHL.
“He should be a Norris Trophy candidate every year,” Bylsma said. He’s an elite player who may not get the accolades from where he plays and from playing out in the West but he’s a dangerous player. One we don’t see much, but one we have to be aware of.”
Ekman-Larsson entered Thursday’s game with six goals and 10 assists and is tied for fourth in the league on defense in goals. He led NHL blueliners last year with 23 goals.