The Sabres have ignored those outside their walls who said Tage Thompson would be best suited to develop in the AHL. They kept him in the NHL, often as a healthy scratch, to work in targeted post-practice drills and heavy video sessions.
They got some reward Monday with Thompson's first goal of the season opening Buffalo's scoring in a 5-4 overtime win at Pittsburgh. The 6-foot-5 Thompson blistered home a snap shot after a pass from Sam Reinhart, who had done heavy forechecking in the Pittsburgh zone.
"It definitely feels good getting that monkey off your back," Thompson said Tuesday. "You're going through games and haven't scored, it can be in the back of your mind and take away from other parts of your game. Getting that helps you build a little more confidence. I have to keep doing the little things right and I'll keep getting rewarded."
"I thought his game is getting better each and every game," coach Phil Housley said. "Not because he scored, but because of the physical element, the puck protection, the things he's really, really good at and can continue to develop. Just the way he's attacking the game."
Why keep Thompson in Buffalo and not try a similar in-the-NHL approach with a different Rochester player? Thompson, of course, was acquired from St. Louis in the Ryan O'Reilly trade, and while the Sabres might be trying to show off some of their wares, the fact remains he's only been in their organization since July and this gives them a chance to add to his development.
At only 21 years old, he's played 55 NHL games, so he's not completely foreign to what it takes to be in the NHL. Thompson had three goals and six assists in 41 games last year for St. Louis and he has a goal and an assist in 14 games for the Sabres.
"I need to win puck battles, be in the right spot defensively," he said. "You do those things and the rest can take care of itself and I'm starting to see that. Being scratched isn't a punishment. The coaches are working with me, trying to develop me and better my game. It's not like they're trying to punish me in any way. They want me to succeed and do better. If this is how it takes to get me to the next level, so be it."
Thompson also said he's had plenty of talks with his father, former NHL defenseman and current AHL Bridgeport coach Brent Thompson.
"He's had to scratch guys. He's been scratched. Most guys in the game have been through it at some point," Thompson said. "It's not a thing against you. They want you to be better and help you out. Stay positive is the biggest message and it's hard to do. It's not easy.
"Everyone wants to play and you don't want to be the guy out of the lineup. When you're not, the biggest thing for me was staying positive and staying ready, knowing my time was going to come."
The status of Sabres defenseman Marco Scandella is unclear after he took an Evgeni Malkin shot to the outside of the knee and missed the third period Monday night.
Housley said Scandella would be a game-time decision prior to Wednesday's game against Philadelphia. The Sabres already have six healthy defensemen, so he wouldn't necessarily need to make a recall from Rochester for the game.
The Flyers hit town for Wednesday night's game in an 0-2-1 lull. They had scored just two goals in eight periods until exploding for four in the final 10 minutes of regulation Saturday to wipe out a 5-1 deficit and force overtime against Tampa Bay in an eventual 6-5 loss.
With regular goaltenders Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth sidelined by injury and fill-in Calvin Pickard woefully ineffective (4.60/.852), Alex Lyon is likely to get his first start of the season.
Lyon, 25, was called up from Lehigh Valley of the AHL last week after posting a 3.54 GAA and .910 save percentage there. Lyon was 4-2-1, 2.75/.905 in 11 games for the Flyers last season.
Cincinnati goaltender and Sabres prospect Jonas Johansson has been named ECHL Goaltender of the Week after allowing one goal in two games. Johansson had a 23-save shutout in a 9-0 win over Greenville and then stopped 30 of 31 shots in a 4-1 win over Ft. Wayne.
Johansson is on a four-game win streak to improve to 5-2-1 and has a 1.51 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage in that stretch. For the season, his numbers are 2.76 and .903.
Johansson, the Sabres' third-round pick in 2014, was 14-11 last year for the Cyclones with a 3.13/.909. He went 4-3, 3.89/.861 in seven games in Rochester.