BOSTON — Jason Pominville is one of the most accomplished and well-liked players in Buffalo Sabres history. After the 36-year-old played his 1,000th career game, he was greeted in KeyBank Center on Nov. 3 by thousands of fans holding placards that read, "Welcome to Pominville. Population: 1,000."
Team owners Terry and Kim Pegula celebrated the occasion by gifting Pominville a silver sabre, and the veteran winger responded with two goals in a 9-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators.
Entering Saturday's game against Boston in TD Garden, Pominville had scored only one goal in 22 games since Nov. 3 and was again moved to the fourth line. He was averaging a career-low 12:51 of ice time, including 7:59 in a 4-3 victory over Florida on Thursday.
There are challenges with playing so little — including no time on special teams — but Pominville only has one focus in his 15th NHL season.
“Honestly, I just want to win," Pominville said Saturday morning. "I’ll do whatever to help the team. I’m not the guy that’s going to go in and see the coaches to complain about ice time or anything like that. I just want to try and win. Whenever my name’s called, I’ll go on the ice and give it everything I have. I think that’s kind of helped my attitude. Try to stay positive and not get frustrated with minutes, stuff like that. I’m all in trying to help the team.”
Pominville, a second-round draft pick of the Sabres in 2001, is minus-5 since his two-goal game against the Senators more than two months ago. He began the season on the fourth line but was outstanding when moved to the top line with Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner.
Pominville played a season-high 20:33 during a 4-2 victory in Anaheim on Oct. 21, but he was replaced by Sam Reinhart on the first line for a Nov. 13 home game against Tampa Bay. Reinhart, Skinner and Eichel were the catalysts of the Sabres' 10-winning streak.
Pominville has since played with a number of different linemates and missed five games in December because of injury. Entering Saturday, Pominville had not played more than 11:45 in his previous three games.
"It’s tough," Sabres coach Phil Housley said of Pominville's ice time. "The situation last game, we had three of our centermen that are killing and sometimes you have to miss a rotation. You want to get the other guys in who are sitting on the bench, so it’s one of those cases, but he’s been a really good teammate. He understands. He wants to win."
Still, Pominville's 18 points entering Saturday ranked sixth on the team and his nine goals were tied for third. His plus-4 rating was fourth among Sabres with at least 25 games played. His 210 goals with the Sabres are one shy of being tied for 11th in franchise history and he is three points away from being tied for eighth.
Those will likely be difficult to come by given his new role. All involved in the Sabres' dressing room are aware of the challenges that come with such little ice time. Yet, not scoring doesn't necessary stop Pominville from accomplishing his one explicit goal.
“Obviously it’s a little bit harder," he said. "I think that the coaches know that. … It’s a little harder when your minutes aren’t as high, harder to get into the game, but they know that and they’re aware of that. Again, I think for myself and for them, they’re not worried about how many minutes I’m going to get. They’re worried about trying to win games and I’m willing to do whatever I can to win games."
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Thomas Vanek, who played nine years in Buffalo after being drafted fifth overall by the Sabres in 2003, appeared in his 1,000th career NHL game Friday night with the Detroit Red Wings and scored a goal in their 4-3 overtime win over Nashville.
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Tampa Bay's Jon Cooper (Atlantic Division), Washington's Todd Reirden (Metropolitan), Winnipeg's Paul Maurice (Central) and Calgary's Bill Peters (Pacific) will serve as coaches for the NHL All-Star Game on Jan. 26 in San Jose.
The coaches with the highest points percentage in each of the fourth divisions through Jan. 5 are selected. Skinner was coached in Carolina by Maurice and Peters.
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Entering Saturday, there had been 3,887 goals scored in the NHL this season, an increase of 4 percent from 2017-18, and an average of 6.1 per game. Last season, the league averaged 5.9 goals per game, tied for the second-highest total since 1996-97.
Also, there were 285 come-from-behind wins across the league, the most ever through 635 total games played. Buffalo was one of four teams that occupied a playoff position after failing to quality for the postseason one year ago.