It was a muted celebration for Rasmus Ristolainen. Just a fist-bump with Justin Bailey who passed him the puck. Ristolainen took the pass, skated down the wing, cut toward the center of the ice and placed a backhand behind Anaheim Ducks goaltender John Gibson.
The goal came with 1:38 left in the game, cutting the Ducks' lead to 4-2. But the rally towels were not out Thursday night in what ultimately went down as a lackluster 5-2 loss by the Buffalo Sabres to the Ducks in KeyBank Center.
There was some significance to the tally for Ristolainen as the goal broke a prolonged scoring drought. The defenseman had gone 20 games without a goal, last scoring Dec. 20 when the Sabres lost to the Panthers in Florida, 4-3, in a shoot out.
Ristolainen had nine goals last year and the expectations were for him to provide more offense from the blue line. That was just his fourth this season.
"I think as a D-man I’ve been struggling this year goal scoring," Ristolainen said. "I don’t think you can score too many goals as a D-man so obviously it felt pretty good. It’s been a while but hopefully I can keep it going and somehow get more goals and try to help the team win."
On the other side of the ledger, Ducks' forward Corey Perry scored his first goal in six games. He scored two as a matter of fact, with an assist to boot. Perry entered the game with just nine goals in 55 games and two in his last 21.
"As long as the team’s winning, I could care less but it does feel good obviously," Perry said. "Just the whole embracing confidence throughout the whole game."
This marked his first multi-goal game in nearly a year, last scoring twice on Feb. 28, 2016.
But that didn't really seem to impact the right-winger.
"I’m not really one to sit here ... if the team’s winning, I don’t care," Perry said. "If we’re struggling, that’s when you have to step up and prove to everybody that you are a leader on this team and you’re not going to accept what’s going on."
Derek Grant had some goal-scoring opportunities, although he was officially credited with just two shot attempts that missed the net.
Still, the center who spent the last month going from Buffalo to Nashville and back to Buffalo, had a few chances to pick up his first NHL goal Thursday.
It didn't happen. But Grant largely gave the Sabres what they wanted from him - a fourth-line center who can win faceoffs and buzz around the net. He won seven of his 11 faceoffs Thursday in his return to the Sabres lineup.
The Sabres put the center on waivers and Nashville claimed him on Jan. 11th. He played six games for the Predators notching one assist before they put him on waivers. He was reclaimed by the Sabres on Sunday and was assigned to Rochester.
Grant practiced with the Amerks then got the call that he would be promoted for Thursday's game against the Ducks. He played with Nicolas Deslauriers and Matt Moulson with Zemgus Girgensons out with a day-to-day mid-body injury.
"Obviously when you get put on waivers it" stinks. "When you get claimed it’s a good feeling in a sense that I know I’m an NHL player and someone else thought the same thing," Grant said. "It’s a good opportunity to come back. Obviously they're short on centers right now. I want to step in and do what I was doing before but take it to the next level as well."
Grant played two years at Michigan State before signing with the Ottawa Senators making his pro debut with Binghamton in 2011. His best pro season came last year with the Calgary Flames organization. He scored 27 goals with 45 points in 36 games for the AHL Stockton Heat and had one assist in 15 games for the Flames.
Grant has yet to find a way to translate his goal-scoring ability in the AHL to the NHL. With the Sabres, he's been a fourth-line center, which means scoring isn't a priority but he still knows he can contribute more offensively.
"It’s frustrating," said Grant who played his 82nd NHL game on Thursday. "I try to help the team win in other ways. Everyone likes scoring goals whether you’re a D-man or a forward. It’s always nice to be able to do that and when you go from being able to do that on a pretty consistent basis to this year where they’re just not going in, even with chances, it’s something you try to not think about too much. For me, it’s just trying to get back to being more relaxed out there around the net with the puck. Eventually one of them is going to go in."
Sabres forward Evan Rodrigues was recalled from the Rochester Americans just in case Evander Kane wasn't healthy enough to play. Kane was and Rodrigues was a healthy scratch, but the forward has been playing some solid hockey with the Amerks in his second professional season.
Rodrigues had two goals in his last game and ranks third on the Amerks with 18 assists and fifth with 27 points.
The Boston University alum said that he's been developing consistency in Rochester and that it comes from being "mentally prepared for every game from the first shift. I think that’s the biggest thing. Sometimes it takes guys a period or a few shifts to get into it and I’ve been really focusing on trying to be prepared from the first drop of the puck."
"I think I’ve been playing in a lot of situations down in Rochester and I think my confidence had just grown knowing that I have the ability to play different positions in different situations," Rodrigues said. "I think that’s helped my confidence out."
The Sabres announced a community blood drive from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Feb. 13 in the Lexus Club at KeyBank Center. Donors can walk in or make an appointment. Free parking will be available in the HarborCenter parking ramp.
Sabres alumni and Sabretooth will be at the event, and Untys will raffle off 500 tickets to an upcoming Sabres game. Donors who refer a friend will have the opportunity to join Sabres coach Dan Bylsma for a guided tour of KeyBank Center at a later date.
To make an appointment, call (716) 512-7940 or visitwww.unyts.org/TeamUnyts. Donors should bring their photo ID and must be 17 years of age or older. Those 16 years of age may donate blood with parental consent.