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Pominville must provide scoring now

His team has been winning. He has 30 assists, good for 23rd in the NHL. He has become a reliable two-way player, someone Lindy Ruff trusts in key moments on the ice.

But the Sabres did not give Jason Pominville a five-year, $26.5 million extension last fall for his intangibles. They shelled out the big bucks because they expected Pominville, who had scored 61 goals over the previous two seasons, to keep putting pucks in the net.

No one imagined that it would come to this: "Pommer" hasn't scored a goal in his last 16 games. He has just one even-strength goal since Nov. 19, a stretch of 36 games. That's quite a comedown for a guy who was second in the NHL in even-strength tallies two years ago.

So the mythical town of Pominville is experiencing zero population growth, and the Sabres' mild-mannered right winger hasn't a clue as to why.

"To be honest, I have no idea," Pominville said Monday. "I'm trying to do the same things I've always done. On the power play, I'm a little further from the net [at the point]. But it's the same position I was last year. I'm not going to use that as an excuse. Five-on-five, I've just got to find a way to score goals."

This would be a great time for it. Thomas Vanek is expected to miss a month with a broken jaw. That's 32 goals out of the lineup. Someone needs to fill the gap. Pominville isn't the only one struggling. Jochen Hecht, Daniel Paille, Clarke MacArthur and Ales Kotalik all have just one goal since mid-January.

But Pominville is being paid to produce at a high level. He's no longer some young, overachieving kid who survived after being waived by the Sabres early in his career. He's a leader, a former captain, one of the players people look to in a time of crisis. Above all, he's a scorer.

"It's important that Pommer start scoring," said Ruff. "He's done a nice job in the back end on the power play, which has probably taken a little bit of his goal-scoring away. He and Jochen [Hecht] are in the same category. We need them to produce five-on-five. It's always been our strength. It's important."

Ruff didn't bring up Hecht by accident. Hecht has centered Pominville's line for most of the season, and he has struggled. Much of the blame for Pominville's scoring woes falls on Hecht. Ruff put Pominville with Derek Roy for a time, but that didn't solve the problem.

At some point, Pominville has to fight his way out of it. A big contract can be a burden. The pressure to produce intensifies, along with the scrutiny. But Pominville said the money (which doesn't kick in until next year) isn't an issue.

"No, not at all," he said. "I'm not even thinking about how much money I'm making. I signed the contract at the beginning of the year so we wouldn't have to talk about it. And I don't want to have to talk about it for five more years now."

As Vanek found out last year, the questions persist until you start scoring. Vanek struggled for half a season after signing his monster deal. Eventually, he found his touch and scored 23 goals in the last 33 games. Pominville's luck is bound to change at some point.

"I hope so," he said. "Once the confidence is there, you know you're capable of scoring. Right now, it's just not there around the net. My confidence probably isn't where it should be. That's why I'm having a tough time scoring goals."

His confidence is shaken. That would be the case even if he hadn't signed a new deal. Pominville was asked if there was more pressure on him with Vanek out. He hesitated, but he didn't deny it.

"Well, I put pressure on myself," he said. "I want to get going. It's not an easy time, to be honest. It's frustrating, but I've just got to keep working and hopefully I can get a bounce and get a goal here and there and get going. I've never really been through a period like this, so that's the tough part about it."

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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