David Legwand is an information man on the morning of Sabres games. He helps his teammates prepare for faceoffs. He readies the penalty killers for a power-play attack. He encourages the young guys to forget about the last game.
He’s not, however, the guy to turn to for the latest word on Buffalo’s hot spots.
Despite being almost twice as old as the Sabres’ top rookies, Legwand has bonded with players such as Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. When the Sabres host Ottawa on Friday night, the 35-year-old will spend time on the bench imparting wisdom to his younger teammates. The conversations are hockey only, with Legwand playing the role of cheerleader.
“Obviously, there’s going to be down days,” he said Thursday. “Guys are young. It’s the guys’ first rodeo and going through the course of an 82-game schedule and the travel and things. There’s going to be down days, and you’ve got to keep them up and the attitudes up and their spirits lifted.
“The key thing, I think, is short-term memory. They play so many games. It’s night in, night out. If you made a bad play last night, you’re going to get a chance to redeem yourself tomorrow.”
When tomorrow comes, the Sabres will gather in the dressing room and talk about the day before. When that happens, the 17-year veteran listens instead of talks. The young guys are more active than him.
“You look back when you were 19, 20, 21, 22, and you get to go home from the rink and take a nap and go have dinner and those types of things,” Legwand said. “They come back the next day and they’re wondering what we did. Well, we went home and played with the kids, picked the kids up from school, those types of things. It’s kind of two different worlds for those guys.”
The colliding worlds are important for a team’s growth. The young players need to know the rink has to be a main focus, while the veterans like the reminders of a bustling youth.
“It’s been awesome,” Legwand said. “The three or four older guys we have in here have leaned on those guys, too. They’re youthful and energetic and exciting every day. Hearing them come in and what they did yesterday and those type of things, it’s fun and energizing for us.”
Legwand was essentially a throw-in to the trade that brought Robin Lehner to town, and that is backed up by his ice time. He has five goals and 13 points in 68 games while skating just 9:36. It’s what he does off the ice that benefits the Sabres.
“We go over the faceoffs at the morning skate every day,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “We have a scout on the players. We know who we’re going against, but David has his own book on each guy with his experience. He goes over each guy, each player with his tendencies with all our centermen.
“It’s really the same on the penalty kill. His experience, his intelligence, his knowledge is something we lean on as a group going into the penalty kill.”
The penalty kill is where Legwand still makes a difference on the ice. He leads Buffalo’s forwards with 2:20 of short-handed time per game, second on the team to Rasmus Ristolainen’s 2:40. The Sabres rank a respectable 14th at 81.3 percent, a huge jump from early in the season. They were 29th at 72.9 percent on Nov. 21, and Legwand gets credit for the improvement.
“The games can be won and lost on it,” he said. “It’s exciting. It’s a challenge, and we’ve gotten better at it through the course of the season.”
In addition to helping the Sabres stop the opposition, Legwand has created while short-handed. He set up Marcus Foligno for a tying goal Wednesday during a 3-2 overtime loss to Montreal. Legwand would have more than two short-handed points if he hadn’t fired wide or fallen down on breakaways during other chances.
“You’ve got to know when to make a play and when not to make a play,” he said. “Obviously, our main objective out there is to kill the penalty, not score a goal.”
As an pending unrestricted free agent with a $3.5 million salary, it’s unlikely Legwand will be back. The Sabres have Tim Schaller, Jean Dupuy and Eric O’Dell pushing from Rochester to play a center role. But while Legwand is in Buffalo, he’s going to talk, listen and try to win.
“You want to help the team win hockey games and create that winning culture and attitude,” he said. “No, I haven’t looked ahead. We want to finish on a good note and win some games down the stretch here, finish out as high as we can.”