RALEIGH, N.C. — This has not been the type of season Brandon Montour is accustomed to.
The 24-year-old defenseman reached the Stanley Cup playoffs in each of his first two NHL seasons, helping the Anaheim Ducks reach the Western Conference Finals in 2017, only five months after making his debut.
He saw the Ducks fire coach Randy Carlyle in February and General Manager Bob Murray took over as interim coach before Montour was traded to the Buffalo Sabres on the eve of last month's trade deadline.
Entering Saturday night's game in Carolina, Montour's two teams this season had gone a combined 25-35-10 — including 1-6-1 with the Sabres — with him on the roster. He endured a 12-game losing streak in Anaheim, and the Sabres were amid a three-game scoring drought before this one-game road trip.
"It’s definitely been frustrating," Montour told The Buffalo News in PNC Arena on Saturday. "My first couple years in the league we had some success and some good teams with a lot more wins than losses. That experience with having more lows in a season is a little different, but the season is so long. I think it’s one of those things where you’re always going to have ups and downs. It’s just a matter of how well you can take that and kind of recover, worry about that next game or next shift. I think I’ve grown into knowing what I can do to help."
Montour, acquired by Buffalo in exchange for defenseman Brendan Guhle and a first-round draft pick, had two goals with two assists and a minus-1 rating in his first eight games with the Sabres. He has tantalized with his speed, while contributing to an offense that has been one of the NHL's worst since its winning streak ended Nov. 29.
Montour didn't expect to be traded. Upon joining the Sabres in Toronto on the day of the trade deadline, he told reporters he intended to show the Ducks they made a mistake by choosing to begin a roster rebuild without him.
The move to Western New York did not come without challenges. Montour had to learn coach Phil Housley's system, including the power play, which has led to breakdowns in his own zone at times.
Injuries have forced Montour to play with different partners in seemingly every game, though he and Rasmus Dahlin were finally united in the Sabres' 5-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday in KeyBank Center and Saturday's game against the Hurricanes.
"Obviously, I’m not focusing too much on next year, but if I look back at it, I’m getting familiar with the guys and the area and what the staff and management is about," Montour said. "Going into next year, it’s one of those things that’s a positive and it’s something to look forward to where I already know everybody. ...
"They know I’m a part of this team now. I want to be here. I’ve seen strides and see what the strengths are with this team. I’m excited about what’s going to happen here. It’s a matter of building that and kind of getting through this tough time in the season."
Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill did not acquire Montour for only this season, though. Montour is under contract next season at a $3.38 million cap hit and will only be a restricted free agent this summer, making him a possible long-term answer for the Sabres' need of a right-shot defenseman.
The trade allows Montour to become acclimated with teammates, staff and management. While Montour hasn't been a catalyst for immediate change, he has quickly earned Housley's trust.
"He’s adjusted well within our structure and with his speed, the way he attacks the game," Housley said. "He plays to win. He’s doing the right things. Just continue working with him in the defensive zone to get his reads, but he’s a horse. He likes to jump up in the play, he likes to get up in the attack and we’re really encouraged by that."
Former Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly will return to KeyBank Center on Sunday for the first time since he was traded to the St. Louis Blues in July. The Blues (37-27-7) are third in the Central Division after a 5-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday that ended a 0-2-1 slump, and defeated the Sabres, 4-1, in St. Louis on Dec. 27.
The Blues got five of six points on their recent California road trip, losing only in overtime at San Jose. Their leading scorer, Vladimir Tarasenko, has been out for five games with an upper body injury. Sabres goalie Carter Hutton, who played two seasons in St. Louis before signing with Buffalo in free agency, is expected to face his former team.
Scandella day to day
Defenseman Marco Scandella was unavailable to play Saturday against Carolina and remains day to day with an upper body injury but skated inside PNC Arena with the team not holding a morning skate.
Scandella suffered the injury during the loss to Pittsburgh and has missed six games over the past two months because of injury. He has four goals among 11 points with a minus-11 rating in 56 games this season.