The Globetrotters may be playing on the roof of the Spectrum (!?!), but tonight Sabres fans are looking forward to a different kind of roosting. Paul Gaustad returns to the lineup after a five game absence, and fans hope his return will be just the boost this team needs.
But here’s my question: why?
When Sabres fans have talked about injuries, the mention of Gaustad being out was a big deal. Now while I agree that it is, I’m still not exactly sure why. It’s not like he’s leading the way in scoring, and isn’t that exactly what this team needs with Vanek out?
Well, as we’ve said before: not really. The Sabres just need to stay afloat here, and good teams can stay buoyant by grinding out a few games with good defensive play and some spot scoring. If you’re looking for the former out of your lineup, Goose is your man. You’ve seen him bang bodies and hit, and you might say his impact is somewhere in that mythical “intangibles” category us hockey fans love so much; but the fact of the matter is that Gaustad’s numbers back up his impact in the roster.
He currently leads the team in faceoff percentage (minimum 5 attempts), and he has one of the lowest Goals against/60 minutes on the team. That’s a defensively responsible center on a team that’s lacked an influx of centers all season. He also is second on the team with 99 hits, which were registered in just 38 games.
The Sabres record with Gaustad in the lineup isn’t particularly stellar. In fact, at 20-17-1 it’s about the same pace they are on total. Still, this is where you get into the intangibles: the Sabres just look better when a guy like Goose is playing. Perhaps that’s the mirage created by a guy selling out so hard to win a faceoff, but to most fans it looks like the Sabres are trying harder with Gaustad in the lineup. The “energy” line never takes a shift off with Gaustad playing, and he’s found guys to skate with this season in Ellis and Mair, as well as a few others.
Maybe it is merely cosmetic, but I just like the way this team plays with Goose in the lineup. It could be coincidence, but they seem to play with more confidence when Gaustad is healthy, almost like they know a line will be there to back them up when things get physical. That’s the mentality you like to see from a team making a playoff push, and it might be what they were missing against teams like Ottawa and Carolina recently.
To sum up all of the above, it will be nice to see Goose again. We need him.