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Hodgson looks to raise shots on goal

He took a pass from Drew Stafford, moved the puck from his forehand to backhand, and tucked it into the net.

It took nine games for Cody Hodgson to score that goal – his first of the season.

Relief? Maybe a little bit. But Hodgson quickly puts the focus back on the team rather than on lifting his personal scoreless hex.

“It’s always nice to get the first one to start off the year. Other years it’s come a little quicker,” Hodgson said with a smile. “But it’s a nice feeling to help the team win. That’s the biggest thing. It’s good to end the road trip on the right note.”

The Sabres returned from their West Coast trip 1-2-0, with losses at Anaheim and Los Angeles, but finished with a win against San Jose on Saturday.

They hope to utilize the momentum when they face Toronto in Air Canada Centre tonight (7:30 p.m., MSG, Radio 550 AM).

Perhaps the momentum of scoring that first goal of the season will open up things for Hodgson, too, but he’s not overthinking it too much.

“It’s just nice to score,” Hodgson said. “Anytime you can score in the NHL, it’s a good feeling. But I try not to think about it too much and just go play.”

But there are times when he is thinking – like when he’s asking questions of assistant coach Bryan Trottier. Hodgson said he talks to Trottier daily, trying to utilize the NHL All-Star’s experience and perspective to help improve his own game.

Take Monday morning when the team was working on the power play.

“It’s little things you might not notice,” Hodgson explained. “Like on the power play, it’s opening up lanes for guys where instead of going against the boards, you take a couple feet inside so the D can walk around you on the outside. Just little things like that which you wouldn’t necessarily learn on your own, but when someone teaches you, it’s a smarter way to do things.”

While Hodgson works on some of those finer points, there’s a simpler way to more offense, too – shooting the puck more.

Head coach Ted Nolan would like to see Hodgson get the puck on net as often possible. The forward has taken 10 shots in nine games, including a season-high three against Carolina Oct. 14 where he recorded his first (and to date only) assist.

“Cody had a great training camp. He’s skating really well,” Nolan said. “As with a lot of our players, he kind of went into a little bit of a funk, but last couple of games I thought he’s gotten a little bit better.

“We expect Cody to be Cody. He’s got to get himself available to shoot the puck, the more he shoots it, the more will go in. Just like last game, those goal scorers have a tendency to find the net. He found it last game for us.”

In order for Hodgson to shoot more, the coaching staff is looking to put him in the right position, and Nolan has created and used all kinds of line combinations.

In the San Jose game, he had Hodgson on the left wing, Drew Stafford on the right and experimented with Marcus Foligno at center.

Hodgson may have scored, but Nolan didn’t like the look of the combination at all.

“The line had some trouble,” Nolan said. “So we’ll mix and match. The most exciting part about the early season is finding out different formulas, who fits best with who. That one there, we tried it. It didn’t work very well, so we’ll try another one.”

In Monday’s practice, Hodgson was on the left wing with Stafford at right and Torrey Mitchell at center.

Nolan likes having Mitchell at center and is looking to have him open up more chances for Hodgson.

“He’s pretty versatile for us, and that’s one of the things we wanted to do during training camp is try him up the middle,” Nolan said of Mitchell.

“He’s had experience there. He’s skating very well for us and maybe he can get in on the forecheck a lot better and a lot quicker for Cody and open up some ice for him.”

email: amoritz@buffnews.com

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