Gorges hopes to help set­tle de­fense

The Buffalo News - - NHL - By Mike Har­ring­ton NEWS SPORTS RE­PORTER

SAN JOSE, Calif. – The start of this NHL sea­son has been a ca­reer re­set for Josh Gorges. For eight straight years, in­clud­ing his first two with the Sabres, Gorges av­er­aged more than 20 min­utes of ice time per game. Then his to­tal last year dropped to 18:27 per game as he be­gan to slip down the Sabres’ ro­ta­tion.

With Phil Hous­ley’s new speed style in place, Gorges be­gan this sea­son as a healthy scratch for the first three games of the sea­son. But with the Sabres reel­ing at 0-2-1, Hous­ley opted to give the vet­eran his first look Thurs­day night as the Sabres opened their Western road trip against the San Jose Sharks.

From reg­u­lar to re­tread, Gorges has had to take stock at age 33.

“It takes a lot of men­tal ad­just­ment and that’s what this game is,” Gorges said in SAP Cen­ter. “Phys­i­cally you do what you can and keep your­self in shape but it’s how you per­ceive the game ev­ery day, how you come to the rink ev­ery day and it’s not an easy thing to do.

“You’re not in, it stinks but come to the rink and mope around and feel sorry for your­self, it doesn’t do me any good and it doesn’t do any of your team­mates any good. You come to the rink, be a pro­fes­sional. That’s my job and that’s what the team is ask­ing of me. When the time comes and the coach wants you to go, be ready to go and show what you can do. Hope­fully make an im­pres­sion.”

Gorges took over on a pair­ing with Jake McCabe for Thurs­day’s game, with rookie Vic­tor An­tipin re­plac­ing him as the healthy scratch. Hous­ley’s hope was that Gorges could pro­vide a calm­ing in­flu­ence on his team in the face of the slew of mis­takes they made in giv­ing up 12 goals the pre­vi­ous two games in losses to the New York Is­landers and New Jer­sey.

“Hav­ing that ex­pe­ri­ence helps,” Hous­ley said. “I think he’ll help Jake. I think any­time we can com­mu­ni­cate as part­ners, I know how im­por­tant that is es­pe­cially when you’re re­triev­ing pucks. If you can al­le­vi­ate pres­sure, beat that first forechecker and get that puck up ice it’s go­ing to be re­ally im­por­tant.”

Gorges said the game looks too easy from the press box, where the whole ice is vis­i­ble, and was hes­i­tant to com­ment on what short­com­ings he’s seen thus far from his team­mates.

That said, he said he thinks the Sabres are sim­ply in a learn­ing phase with Hous­ley’s sys­tem and will even­tu­ally start to over­come their is­sues.

“I think we’re right there. I re­ally do,” he said. “A lot of times you get in a stretch of tough games where things haven’t gone well ... know what you’re do­ing be­fore you come to the rink. When you get here, just go out and do it. A lot of times you have just to turn your brain off and play. Do enough prep, video, prac­tice. It comes time for the game, drop the puck and let’s go.”

Gorges is not the player he was dur­ing his years in Mon­treal, where the Cana­di­ens ad­vanced to the East­ern Con­fer­ence fi­nal. But he also says he’s not the guy who’s posted a com­bined mi­nus-38 rat­ing with the Sabres over the last three sea­sons ei­ther. He said if he starts di­rect­ing traf­fic on the ice more, he can help break the game down for his team­mates the way they need.

“Moreso than any­thing, it’s just be­ing ver­bal on the ice,” he said. “This game is so fast to­day that the four guys who aren’t touch­ing the puck have to tell the one guy who is what to do so when he gets it. It’s an easy smart play and you make that guy look like a ge­nius from what the other four guys are do­ing. If I can bring a lit­tle bit of that and help my part­ner out, help who­ever is out on the ice, I’d like to think I can do that. Hope­fully we do all those lit­tle things.”

The road trip con­tin­ues on to Los An­ge­les on Satur­day, Ana­heim on Sun­day and Las Ve­gas on Tues­day. It’s long been cir­cled as a key early-sea­son yard­stick for the Sabres’ sea­son, well be­fore their strug­gles over the first three games. Those have that feat in 2003. Kane, who en­tered the game tied for fifth in the NHL in goals with four, said he got a text from his fa­ther re­mind­ing him that Thurs­day was No. 500.

“Re­al­is­ti­cally with­out in­juries and the lock­out, I’d prob­a­bly be at about 700 right now,” said Kane, 26. “But it’s nice to come, it’s a good mile­stone.”

• Robin Lehner started for the Sabres in goal as sched­uled, show­ing no ill ef­fects from tak­ing a puck off the chin on a Zem­gus Gir­gen­sons shot dur­ing prac­tice on Wed­nes­day in Har­borCen­ter.

• The Sharks played the game with­out vet­eran de­fense­man Paul Martin, who is day-to-day with a lower-body in­jury. Joakim Ryan, a sev­enth-round pick in 2012, made his NHL de­but in Martin’s place.

• The Sharks joined in with other Bay Area pro teams to make an ini­tial do­na­tion of $450,000 to a fund for vic­tims of the wild­fires that have rav­aged North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. The Sharks joined with the San Fran­cisco 49ers, Oakland A’s, San Jose Earth­quakes, San Fran­cisco Gi­ants, Oakland Raiders and Golden State War­riors in urg­ing their fans to do­nate through a You­car­ing site for the vic­tims.

The fires be­gan Sun­day and have de­stroyed sev­eral ar­eas of Napa wine coun­try, about two hours north of San Jose. Skies to the north are hazy and the fires were vis­i­ble out the win­dow as the Sabres’ char­ter ap­proached here Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

Harry Scull Jr./ Buf­falo News

Josh Gorges has been a healthy scratch for the first three Sabres games but was in the lineup Thurs­day in San Jose.

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