SAN JOSE, Calif. -- The start of this NHL season has been a career reset for Josh Gorges. For eight straight years, including his first two with the Sabres, Gorges averaged more than 20 minutes of ice time per game. Then his total last year dropped to 18:27 per game as he began to slip down the Sabres' rotation.
With Phil Housley's new speed style in place, Gorges began this season as a healthy scratch for the first three games of the season. But with the Sabres reeling at 0-2-1, Housley opted to give the veteran his first look Thursday night as the Sabres opened their Western road trip against the San Jose Sharks.
From regular to retread, Gorges has had to take stock at age 33.
"It takes a lot of mental adjustment and that's what this game is," Gorges said in SAP Center. "Physically you do what you can and keep yourself in shape but it's how you perceive the game every day, how you come to the rink every day and it's not an easy thing to do.
"You're not in, it stinks but come to the rink and mope around and feel sorry for yourself, it doesn't do me any good and it doesn't do any of your teammates any good. You come to the rink, be a professional. That's my job and that's what the team is asking of me. When the time comes and the coach wants you to go, be ready to go and show what you can do. Hopefully make an impression."
Gorges took over on a pairing with Jake McCabe for Thursday's game, with rookie Victor Antipin replacing him as the healthy scratch. Housley's hope was that Gorges could provide a calming influence on his team in the face of the slew of mistakes they made in giving up 12 goals the previous two games in losses to the New York Islanders and New Jersey.
"Having that experience helps," Housley said. "I think he'll help Jake. I think anytime we can communicate as partners, I know how important that is especially when you're retrieving pucks. If you can alleviate pressure, beat that first forechecker and get that puck up ice it's going to be really important."
Gorges said the game looks too easy from the press box, where the whole ice is visible, and was hesitant to comment on what shortcomings he's seen thus far from his teammates.
That said, he said he thinks the Sabres are simply in a learning phase with Housley's system and will eventually start to overcome their issues.
"I think we're right there. I really do," he said. "A lot of times you get in a stretch of tough games where things haven't gone well ... know what you're doing before you come to the rink. When you get here, just go out and do it. A lot of times you have just to turn your brain off and play. Do enough prep, video, practice. It comes time for the game, drop the puck and let's go."
Gorges is not the player he was during his years in Montreal, where the Canadians advanced to the Eastern Conference final. But he also says he's not the guy who's posted a combined minus-38 rating with the Sabres over the last three seasons either. He said if he starts directing traffic on the ice more, he can help break the game down for his teammates the way they need.
"Moreso than anything, it's just being verbal on the ice," he said. "This game is so fast today that the four guys who aren't touching the puck have to tell the one guy who is what to do so when he gets it, it's an easy smart play and you make that guy look like a genius from what the other four guys are doing. If I can bring a little bit of that and help my partner out, help whoever is out on the ice, I'd like to think I can do that. Hopefully we do all those little things."
The road trip continues on to Los Angeles on Saturday, Anaheim on Sunday and Las Vegas on Tuesday. It's long been circled as a key early-season yardstick for the Sabres' season, well before their struggles over the first three games. Those have no doubt ramped up the urgency.
"No question. We haven't got off to the start we wanted and it's a great opportunity for us to get out on the road, get away, spend some time with each other," Gorges said. "Become a team. A lot of new faces, a lot of things have changed. Those little things outside the game are important. It will be a hard test for us and that's a good thing to push us to be better."
Antipin, the KHL free-agent signee, has no points and is minus-4 in the first three games. He was particularly poor at times Monday at New Jersey, getting caught up ice with regularity.
"He does a terrific job using his feet," Housley said. "I didn't see it as much in the second and third game. He's got to use that mobility to his advantage, take charge and want the puck."
Sabres forward Evander Kane played his 500th NHL game and was trying to become the first Buffalo player with three straight multi-goal games since Ales Kotalik pulled off that feat in 2003. Kane, who entered the game tied for fifth in the NHL in goals with four, said he got a text from his father reminding him that Thursday was No. 500.
"Realistically without injuries and the lockout, I'd probably be at about 700 right now," said Kane, 26. "But it's nice to come, it's a good milestone."
---Robin Lehner started for the Sabres in goal as scheduled, showing no ill effects from taking a puck off the chin on a Zemgus Girgensons shot during practice on Wednesday in HarborCenter.
---The Sharks played the game without veteran defenseman Paul Martin, who is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Joakim Ryan, a seventh-round pick in 2012, made his NHL debut in Martin's place.
---The Sharks joined in with other Bay Area pro teams to make an initial donation of $450,000 to a fund for victims of the wildfires that have ravaged Northern California. The Sharks joined with the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland A's, San Jose Earthquakes, San Francisco Giants, Oakland Raiders and Golden State Warriors in urging their fans to donate through a Youcaring site for the victims.
The fires began Sunday and have destroyed several areas of Napa wine country, about two hours north of San Jose. Skies to the north are hazy and the fires were visible out the window as the Sabres' charter approached here Wednesday afternoon.
— Dan Dunleavy (@Dan_Dunleavy) October 11, 2017