MONTREAL – Josh Gorges felt he was playing well, and the numbers back him up. He learned that's not enough.
The defenseman needs to do more if he wants to stay in the Buffalo Sabres' lineup.
After returning to health and playing in six straight games, Gorges was a healthy scratch Friday against Edmonton. He played Saturday against Montreal, so it was a short hiatus.
Still, the day off stung.
"You never want to be the guy that's on the sidelines," Gorges said in Bell Centre. "You want to be out there, and you want to continue to be out there. I won't say it's an easy situation, but it's one of those things that's the nature of the business that we're in. These decisions are out of my hands, so you do what you can and deal with the rest."
The Sabres are carrying seven defensemen, so someone has to sit every night. Justin Falk was scratched against the Canadiens. Things will get even more crowded when Zach Bogosian, who has begun practicing, makes his season debut.
"I thought I played well, but obviously with the situation with this many guys, you've got to do something more," Gorges said. "It's hard. You don’t want to try to go out of your comfort zone and do something that's not you because that can be a recipe for disaster, but at the same point if they're looking for something more, then I guess you've got to try to find something else and show them that maybe they can't take you out of the lineup."
Gorges was the odd man out early, sitting the opening three games. He played in three straight then got hurt, leaving him on the sidelines for nine games.
He returned two weeks ago against Montreal. Gorges crushed Brendan Gallagher with a check, then dropped the gloves when Jordie Benn sought retribution for the hit.
It sparked a run of six straight for Gorges, who entered Saturday with 22 hits, 17 blocked shots and an even rating in 10 games. He is playing a manageable 16:07 per night this season after averaging 20:13 during his first three years with Buffalo.
"He brought a physical element," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "You could see the last time we were in here, he came down, pinched hard, was physical in the battle and stepped up and really gave our team a boost.
"I'm not looking to say that fighting is the answer. It's just the physical element, being tough to play against in front of our net. I thought he did a really good job of that."
The Canadiens knew Saturday was special for left wing Nicolas Deslauriers, so they chose the former Sabres forward to lead the stretch during their morning skate.
"I don’t have any stretch in my book so that’s always going to be short and sweet, but it means a lot," Deslauriers told reporters at the practice rink in Brossard, Quebec.
Deslauriers spent four seasons with the Sabres after being acquired from Los Angeles. Buffalo traded him to Montreal near the end of training camp. He was in the minors during the teams' first two meetings, so Saturday's game was the first time he faced his former team.
"I have something to prove every game," Deslauriers said. "I just got here, but it’s going to be special. That’s where everything started."
The Sabres deemed Deslauriers expendable after claiming Jordan Nolan on waivers, so they dealt him for defenseman Zach Redmond. The fun-loving French Canadian is missed in the dressing room.
"He was a heart-and-soul type guy, a guy that played every night and gave everything he had," Gorges said. "He fought for his teammates, went to battle and a good guy in the room. He got along with everybody, didn't really have any beefs. He was just a good-hearted guy."
Rasmus Ristolainen wasted no time making an impact in his return to the lineup against Edmonton. The defenseman had two assists and five shots with 27:32 of ice time.
When Housley reflected on the performance Saturday, he was just as impressed with Ristolainen's chippy play. The defenseman pushed and jawed with several Oilers after whistles.
"He had snarl to his game," Housley said, "and I think we have to have more of that from all of our guys, playing with more emotion. You can see how effective Rasmus was."