With Matt Moulson’s goal-less streak approaching two months, Sabres coach Dan Bylsma finally had no choice and made the veteran winger a healthy scratch for Wednesday’s 5-2 loss in Washington.
It’s conceivable Moulson could have had to wait his turn to get back into the lineup, but Tyler Ennis was injured in the game and Moulson was thus thrust back into the lineup for Thursday’s matchup with his old team, the New York Islanders.
Moulson had not scored in 24 games, since tallying in the Sabres’ 2-1 win Nov. 1 over the Islanders in Barclays Center.
“I think I have to be better. I think that’s it,” Moulson said prior to the game in First Niagara Center. “I have to be better out there, win more battles and make plays. Maybe sometimes it allows you to get your mind right and get back to what makes you successful.”
Moulson had three straight 30-goal seasons for the Islanders but hasn’t come close to matching that kind of output since the Sabres acquired him for Thomas Vanek early in the 2013-14 season, and then resigned him to a five-year, $25-million contract in July, 2014 after a deadline day trade to Minnesota.
He had 13 goals for Buffalo last year in 77 games and is stuck on four goals in 36 games this year. At this point, he can’t pay attention to the stat sheet anymore.
“When you do that, you twist your mind up pretty good,” he said. “I want to help contribute to this team to win. I love playing in Bufalo and want to win with this team and organization. I know what I have to do and I’m ready to take it back to that level.”
Bylsma used Moulson on a line with Evander Kane and Johan Larsson. Moulson had been limited to fourth-line duty and had not played more than 11 minutes in any of the previous three games.
“He’s going to get an opportunity to get back in there, be on a good line,” Bylsma said. “He hasn’t been in that situation, done that for us in the last while and that’s a disappointing thing for Matt. It wasn’t something I take a lot of pride in, but I think it was somewhat necessary for Matt to get back to where he needs to be to be effective for our team.”
Bylsma had no update on Ennis, who was trucked along the boards by Washington star Alex Ovechkin. The Sabres winger pretty much put himself in peril by turning into the onrushing Caps star.
“It’s a hard hit by Ovechkin,” Bylsma said. “I don’t have any issue with the hit other than Tyler turns, tries to get away from it and kind of gets whiplashed on to the ice.
When you add in Thursday’s absentees, the Sabres are second to Edmonton in number of man-games lost to injury this season at 174.
The number is, however, somewhat deceiving as a combined 75 games of the total are taken up by forward Cody McCormick and goaltender Robin Lehner. McCormick has yet to play this season due to blood clots while Lehner suffered a high ankle sprain 32 minutes into the season opener and just started to return to practice this week.
This is Ennis’ third time on the injured list this season. He missed games Oct. 29-30 with a lower-body injury and suffered an upper-body injury Nov. 23 against St. Louis that kept him out of the next 12 games. A 20-goal scorer each of the last two seasons, Ennis has just three goals this year, with none in his last 14 games. He hasn’t scored since Oct. 27.
Bylsma had no clear update on Ennis but said it was tough to see a player expected to be one of his main offensive cogs get sidelined again.
“As of right now it’s an upper body injury and we’re kind of still waiting to get a diagnosis on him from the doctor,” Bylsma said. “I had that feeling of shaking my head at the possibility of him being injured again.”
Bylsma didn’t use his timeout during the Capitals’ four-goal third period and admitted the strategy of coaches has changed this year in the wake of the NHL’s challenge system. Without a timeout, you can’t challenge a goal that may have been scored on an offside play or with the help of goalie interference.
“That’s a decision you’ve had to make throughout the year,” he said. “You value your timeout more, needing it for the challenge. You don’t use it as loosely. It does play in and did play in to maybe not taking the timeout to stop the tide of the way Washington was coming at us.”