The goal-less drought had reached 21 games, but Zemgus Girgensons couldn’t afford to keep count. There were other things to do, battles to win, nets to crash, pucks to chase.
With each game that went by, Girgensons recommitted himself to doing the little things it takes to be an effective player for the Buffalo Sabres.
On Monday night in Washington, he finally broke through, scoring the first goal for the Sabres in a 3-2 overtime loss against the Capitals.
“I mean it’s always nice to score a goal,” Girgensons said Tuesday morning in KeyBank Center before the Sabres hosted the Edmonton Oilers. “It was a little bit of a long stretch there but I’ve seen that before. I just had to stick with it.
“You just try to keep focused on the game. It’s a team game and if you’re not scoring and your team’s doing good it’s all OK. So definitely you just focus on the hockey and keep playing. You put more focus on going to the net, getting the puck to the net. That’s a big focus.”
His play on Monday went noticed by his teammates. Girgensons finished that game with a goal, two shots, two hits and plus-one rating.
But it’s the work that doesn’t go on the official event summary that made the most difference.
Ryan O’Reilly said Girgensons “played a great game,” Monday. “I think he was probably our best player on the ice. Every shift he played he was winning battles. He scored a beautiful goal but I don’t think he lost a battle last night and that’s pretty incredible to do consistently for a game. It was great to see him get a goal. We should have won that game for him. He was definitely a leader last game.”
There’s a sigh of relief with getting that goal to end a personal scoring drought. There’s also a shot of confidence that the team hopes has a carry-over impact on Girgensons’ game.
“I think he’s been searching and fighting for answers in his game and trying to score a goal,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said. “I think you kind of see it after he scored that goal that there’s a big load lifted off him. I thought he played one of his best games for us,” Monday night.
Girgensons had his best NHL season with the Sabres in 2014-15, scoring 15 goals with 15 assists in 61 games under then-head coach Ted Nolan.
Last season, in his first time playing for Bylsma, he scored just seven goals with 18 points in 71 games.
Through 25 this season he has two goals and five points. But the game is about more than just scoring and Girgensons is committed to finding his role.
“Every player here contributes,” Girgensons said. “It doesn’t matter if you get three goals or one guy gets six hits. Everyone contributes. That’s how it’s done.”