Sabres’ Tage Thompson may not be scoring as many goals but he’s still piling up points

ST. LOUIS – The goals have dried up for Tage Thompson, but the offense has not.

The Buffalo Sabres’ All-Star center has hit the net just twice in his last 10 games, but still has 11 points in that span. Thompson has at least one assist in the last four games – and the Sabers have won all four.

The Sabers were off Wednesday, and go for their second five-game winning streak of the season Thursday night at 8 pm, when they play the Winnipeg Jets in Canada Life Centre.

In the end, the Sabers nearly blew a 4-0 lead before holding off the St. Louis Blues, 5-3, for their fourth straight win.

“As a line, we’ve been playing well, generating a lot of offense,” Thompson said of Buffalo’s top unit with Jeff Skinner and Alex Tuch. “When it’s not going in for me, I think my linemates are doing a good job getting open. If one guy’s not scoring, the other two are. We’ve just got to continue to make plays and read off each other. We’ I’ll be fine.”

Thompson had a goal and two assists in Tuesday’s 5-3 win over the St. Louis Blues, as his line was on the ice for the team’s first four goals. Thompson (two goals, six assists) and Skinner (2-4-6) are on five-game point streaks. Tuch is on a six-game run (3-5-8) that’s his best as a Sabre.

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“Goals come and go. They come in waves,” Thompson said. “I think it’s just a product of your game. As long as I’m getting chances and creating stuff for our line, I’m happy. That’s all you can really ask for, as long as you’re focusing on the little details.”

Thompson has 33 goals this season, and his 33 assists are second on the team to Rasmus Dahlin’s 39. Thompson is on pace for 58 goals and 115 points.

Edmonton’s Connor McDavid is the only NHL center with more goals (40) and points (88) than Thompson. Thompson entered Wednesday’s play tied for eighth in the NHL in assists among centers with Dallas Veteran Joe Pavelski (although Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl has played much more wing than center). Thompson is one helper behind Pittsburgh Captain Sidney Crosby and Washington Veteran Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Thompson had a perfect cross-ice pass to feed Owen Power for the overtime-winning goal Monday in Dallas, and was at it again just 60 seconds into Tuesday’s win, feeding Skinner for the goal that gave the Sabers the lead for keeps.

“He’s a unique challenge. He’s a unicorn,” Dallas Coach Peter DeBoer said. “There’s not many guys that size. For me, it’s just been the improvement every year in his game and continuing to work at it, his skating and his speed.”

Thompson’s second-period goal that gave Buffalo a 4-0 lead gave him three points in the first 21 minutes of the game and was his ninth game this season of 3-plus points.

“He is an exceptional playmaking player,” Coach Don Granato said. “To struggle scoring is a blessing for us, as long as we’re winning games, because it’s going to force him to even be more creative, which he has that talent, that ability to do.”

Thompson is naturally seeing more defensive attention, especially on the power play, and is also enduring a drop in shooting percentage from earlier in the season. Thompson has 30 shots on goal in the last 10 games, but only two goals, just a 6.6% success rate. He was at 19.8% through the season’s first 37 games.

“Goals will come. For me, I’m just heading into games to try not to focus on points or goals,” he said. “It’s just being focused on how am I going to keep it simple, make the right plays, and when the opportunity comes in, we’re gonna be ready to bear down and get one. Tonight was good to get back on the score sheet for a goal, and, hopefully, I can get Rolling again.”

“We see his exceptional vision and playmaking ability,” Granato said. “And Let’s face it, some of the shots he has taken have hit goalies in the shoulders, in the helmets. He could just as easily have four or five goals in this stretch, and we’re not talking about this. So he’s doing the right things to score goals. He’s not in a slump in that regard. It just hasn’t been going in. But he’s been pulling the trigger pretty good.”

Thompson has seemed off with his release in the slot and his one-timers on the power play in recent games. Opponents are more active around him, and Granato has even tinkered with moving him to the right side of the power play, something the Sabers will undoubtedly work on more when they finally get to practice for the first time in a week Friday in Minnesota.

“The last guy, I think, we need to worry about this is Tage,” Granato said. “This has been a lot of games in a really short time. He’s finding different ways to contribute through fatigue, through different challenges. Obviously, the opposition is playing him differently, which is all good. It’s great because you know through that pressure and that challenge, he’s going to find ways to become better and more intuitive, and we’re seeing that firsthand now.”

The Buffalo Sabers get some morning paces in at the Massive American Airlines Center in Dallas in advance of the opener of a four-game road trip.


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