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Sabres Notebook: Girgensons gets his chance to return

ST. LOUIS -- After two games in the press box watching, winger Zemgus Girgensons got back on the ice Sunday night. The former first-round draft pick is in a brutal scoring slump but Sabres coach Phil Housley liked what he saw in practice the last few days, so Girgensons was inserted into the lineup for Buffalo's game against the St. Louis Blues.

"It's never fun to be out, not be able to help the team," Girgensons said. "But I wasn't performing at my best. It wasn't good enough. Sometimes you need a kick in your back a little bit to get back that fire, that anger to want to be out there and do more for the team."

Girgensons took over for Jordan Nolan on the fourth line, playing with Johan Larsson and Hudson Fasching.

Girgensons has one goal and two assists in 24 games this season. Both assists were in the Oct. 12 loss at San Jose, while the goal came two nights later in Los Angeles. And that's been it.

Since then, Girgensons has played 19 straight games without a single point and wasn't even producing many offensive chances. Only once in the last 11 games, that being the Nov. 24 win over Edmonton, did he collect more than two shots on goal.

"I need to be better and keep working," he said. "I tried to work hard this week being out. I just have to outcompete everyone. Play with more anger, more desperaqtion to want to be out there and want to stay there."

Girgensons admitted the pointless streak was weighing on his mind.

"When those games start counting up, it definitely gets in your head and it's harder and harder each game," he said. "Maybe this step back here will give me a little boost."

Girgensons, Buffalo's second first-round pick in 2012, had his best year in 2014-15 when he had 15 goals and 15 assists. He played in the Sochi Olympics for Latvia and was voted to the All-Star Game in 2015 but has yet to regain his form since Nolan was fired following the 14-15 season.

Girgensons' 15 goals in '14-15 came in 61 games. He entered Sunday with 15 goals the last three seasons in 170 games.

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The first-minute goal scored Sunday by St. Louis' Brayden Schenn was not part of a major trend against the Sabres. Even though they're well below .500, Buffalo has often taken a lead in its games. Schenn's goal marked the 16th time in 30 games the Sabres have given up the first goal, while Buffalo has opened the scoring 14 times.

One problem with the Sabres' season is their inability to hold leads. Buffalo entered Sunday just 5-4-5 when getting the first goal and only 5-0-4 when leading after two periods. Both of those figures leave the Sabres one shy of the NHL lead for losses when scoring first and losses when ahead after 40 minutes.

What does a good team look like in those areas? St. Louis, for example, entered Sunday 14-2-1 when scoring first and an NHL-leading 16-0-0 when ahead after two periods.

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While playing for Team Canada, Schenn was the most valuable player of the 2011 World Junior Championships in Buffalo. Canada lost to Russia in the gold medal game, 5-3, as it gave up all five goals in the third period to blow a 3-0 lead.

Current St. Louis teammate Vladimir Tarasenko made had a goal and two assists in that final frame to help the Russians' comeback while playing on a line with fellow current NHL stars Artemi Panarin (Columbus) and Evgeni Kuznetsov (Washington).

The World Juniors return to Buffalo again this year, opening Dec. 26 and running through Jan. 5. Canada and Team USA are scheduled a pool play game Dec. 29 in New Era Field.

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Nolan, who has no points and is minus-4 over the last six games, was a healthy scratch for the third time this season but had not sat out since Oct. 9. On defense, Josh Gorges came back into the lineup and Victor Antipin came out. Antipin, who has been a healthy scratch eight times this season, has totaled just over 18 minutes of ice time the last two games.

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