GLENDALE, Ariz. – When last season ended, Nick Baptiste essentially said it was Buffalo or bust this year. Until this week, the right winger wasn't with Buffalo.
"I have a lot more to give," Baptiste admitted Thursday. "I've got better in me, just all around in my game."
The stark realization came recently in Rochester. He got sent down during training camp after failing to impress in two preseason contests. Then, in the opening five games with the Amerks, he had no points and was minus-3.
"I wasn’t working hard enough in my own end," Baptiste said in Gila River Arena. "I was too worried about scoring and getting points and contributing offensively. I got away from playing hard, playing fast."
It was a disappointing drop for a guy who felt he proved last year he belonged in Buffalo.
"What you think you deserve and what you get are two different things," Sabres coach Phil Housley said before facing the Arizona Coyotes. "I didn't say he had a poor camp. I think the rookie camp he had some good games after a little bit of a slow start, so it's something that he can learn from."
The knowledge sank in for Baptiste on Oct. 25. He had one goal, two assists and plus-4 rating against Laval. He scored twice in the rematch two nights later, with both goals coming in the final 1:35 to tie the game and send Rochester toward an overtime victory.
He was kept off the score sheet Saturday, but the signs of life earned him a recall for the Sabres' road trip.
"The last three games have been better than I started off, but for me it's not really points," the 22-year-old said. "I've got to worry about playing my game well, using my speed, playing hard defensively. I think that's why I got called up. I was playing kind of the right way, and that's what I've got to do."
The Sabres have noticed the difference.
"Just watching him on film, I think he's getting to the net harder," Housley said. "He's cleaning up some second opportunities, which is good because that's an area of focus that we've had."
While the recent success led to Wednesday's recall, it didn't earn Baptiste a spot in the lineup Thursday. The Sabres dressed Matt Moulson in place of injured Justin Bailey, leaving Baptiste to watch.
"It's an honor to be back up here," Baptiste said. "This team is where I want to be for my career. I want to be playing in Buffalo, and I want to be playing for the Sabres. I've got to work hard to make that a reality.
"I've said this before: I'm not going to come in here and steal someone's job on the top line. I've got to earn my way up. I might start on the fourth line and just work hard and do the little things to help this team win."
Housley is proving different from his predecessors in one regard. He's electing to stick around after games.
In the past, the Sabres would typically pack up following a game and fly to the next city. Housley elected to stay in Las Vegas after the game Oct. 17, and the team returned to Buffalo on Oct. 18. The Sabres stayed in Arizona on Thursday and were scheduled to fly to Dallas on Friday.
After Saturday's game against the Stars, the Sabres are scheduled to sleep in Dallas again. They'll fly home to Buffalo on Sunday.
"It's just the sleep part of it," the coach said. "We want to stay over, get the proper sleep and leave the next day. You get into a city at 3:30, 4 a.m., they're not getting the right sleep."
Dallas is a two-hour time change from Arizona. The Sabres could have boarded their charter by midnight after facing the Coyotes, but a two-hour flight combined with the time change would have put the Sabres on the ground around 4 a.m.
Flying back to Buffalo after games allowed players with wives and children an opportunity to wake up with the family, but sticking around lets players hang out with each other.
Niagara Falls native Adam Clendening just missed a meeting with his hometown team. Arizona waived the defenseman Thursday.
Clendening played in five games for the Coyotes, recording two assists and a minus-1 rating. He skated a season-high 19:11 in Tuesday's 5-3 loss in Detroit.
Drafted in the second round by Chicago in 2011, Clendening has played for Chicago, Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Edmonton, the Rangers and Coyotes during the past four seasons.