Jason Pominville beamed and spoke passionately about the Buffalo Sabres' rivalry with the Toronto Maple Leafs, describing the excitement leading up to each game and the energy from the crowd, especially in KeyBank Center.
However, Pominville wasn't on the ice for the 219th regular-season meeting between the two teams.
Pominville, the 36-year-old winger who has faced the Maple Leafs 64 times in his career and ranks fourth on the Sabres with 15 goals this season, was a healthy scratch when the two teams faced each other Wednesday night – the second consecutive game he will spend in the press box.
Instead, Vladimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson, who had combined for 12 goals and a minus-37, will be in coach Phil Housley's lineup.
"I think it’s just the situation we’re at, trying to see what we have, I guess, and giving opportunities to guys, which is understandable for the position we’re in," Pominville said following the Sabres' optional morning skate. "It (stinks) being the guy that has to sit out but I get that part a little bit. They know what I can bring. They know what I can do for the team, but they have to figure out what other guys can bring. That’s part of the game. I’m not going around high-fiving people because I’m not playing. You want to play. I get the business side of it for sure."
Pominville has been a healthy scratch three times this season and has 28 points with a minus-3 rating. He isn't accustomed to sitting out, either. Pominville has played all 82 games in eight of his 15 NHL seasons, with one exception being his one-game audition as a rookie in 2003-04, and is on pace to play his fewest games in one season since the lockout-shortened 2012-13.
He is on a six-game point streak against the Maple Leafs, including four goals, and has more career points against them (57) than any other opponent.
With his goal on March 2 at Toronto, Pominville tied Don Luce for 10th-most regular-season goals in Sabres history (216) and trails Rene Robert by six goals for ninth-most all-time.
He was first a healthy scratch in Dallas on Jan. 30, and responded with five goals over his next 15 games. Pominville was a minus-4 over the four games prior to being a healthy scratch Sunday against the St. Louis Blues, a game the Sabres won in a shootout, 4-3.
Housley opted to keep the same lineup, despite Sobotka and Thompson both struggling during the win.
"It’s always difficult to sit out any player as a coach, but we have to make tough decisions," Housley said Wednesday morning. "We hadn’t gotten any results and we finally win a game, so we’re sticking with the same players. Jason’s been a great teammate. Somebody that represents the Buffalo Sabres in all facets and it’s always difficult."
Pominville's future with the Sabres is uncertain, as he is an unrestricted free agent this summer and counted $5.6 million against the salary cap this season.
Thompson, acquired from St. Louis as part of the Ryan O'Reilly trade, has played in 63 games this season and is only 21, while Alexander Nylander is 21 years old and has played in only 12 career NHL games since being drafted eighth overall in 2016. Meanwhile, Sobotka, 31, has struggled since joining the Sabres but is under contract next season at a cap hit of $3.5 million.
Pominville has expressed a desire to remain in Buffalo for the duration of his career and made it clear he did not want to be moved to a contender at last month's trade deadline. He helped establish what players have described as a healthy clubhouse culture following last year's 25-win season and served as an alternate captain during Jack Eichel's suspension.
Pominville has also shown the ability to play on the top line with Eichel or in a fourth-line grinder role with Johan Larsson. That unique versatility, and his past production, were not enough to face his bitter rivals, though.
"I feel fine," Pominville said. "I feel good. I feel comfortable. I’m healthy. No issues. I feel pretty good. Again, they know what I can bring. It’s just part of the process, I guess."
Drury to lead USA at World Championships
Chris Drury, who scored 85 goals over three seasons with the Sabres, was named general manager for U.S. Men's National Team in the World Championships, which will be held May 10-26 in Slovakia.
Drury, 42, has served as the New York Rangers' assistant general manager for the past three years and began his post-playing career as the organization's director of player development.
Draft pick update
The San Jose Sharks clinching a playoff spot assured the Sabres own an additional first-round pick in the upcoming draft -- for now. According to the stipulations in last February's Evander Kane trade, the draft pick would be deferred to 2020 if San Jose did not qualify for the playoffs.
The Sabres technically own three first-round draft picks -- their own, San Jose's and St. Louis' from the Ryan O'Reilly trade -- however, they will send one of those picks to the Anaheim Ducks to complete the Brandon Montour trade. The Ducks will receive the higher pick between the Sharks and Blues, which will be determined once the draft order is finalized.
Bryson receives honor
Sabres prospect Jacob Bryson, a for Providence College, was named a Hockey Easy second-team all-star after recording 25 points in 39 games as a junior.
Bryson, 21, was a fourth-round draft pick of the Sabres in 2017. He has 70 points over three college seasons.