By Bill Hoppe
BUFFALO — Cody Hodgson said he loves exploring cities. On the road, where he’s on pace to play an NHL-record 48 games this season, the 22-year-old Sabres center tries to see all the sights.
Hodgson just visited Times Square last week prior to his first game in New York. The Toronto native rates Dallas – sorry, Sabres fans – and Nashville among his favorite cities.
One day recently, Hodgson hopped in his rental car and began driving around Buffalo, a place he had seen little of since being acquired from Vancouver on Feb. 27.
“I did a little exploring around myself, just driving around the city,” Hodgson said Friday prior to the Sabres’ 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins inside the First Niagara Center.
A few days ago, teammate Robyn Regehr’s wife, Kristina, organized an excursion around the area for Hodgson and some other players.
They hit the mayor’s office, Albright-Knox, Anchor Bar and Ralph Wilson Stadium.
“It’s great,” Hodgson said about the area. “I like the fans, too. They’re passionate. They know the game. They want the Sabres to do well.”
With three goals and seven points in the last five games entering Friday, Hodgson’s finally performing well following 10 pointless games out of the gate with the Sabres. He’s pivoting a strong line between rookie Corey Tropp and Thomas Vanek.
Coincidence or not, Hodgson found his groove on the ice around the same time he settled into his new city a bit. He played his first four games with the Sabres on the road and 10 of the first 15 away.
“I guess I’m more familiar, more comfortable with how things work,” Hodgson said. “I can just go play the game. It’s fun.”
At one point, he had played nine straight and 13 of 16 on the road going back to his Vancouver career. An appearance tonight in Toronto will tie Mike Foligno’s Sabres record of 46 road games, set in 1981-82 following his arrival from Detroit.
“I’ve only been in the city a few days with all the travel,” said Hodgson, who’s living in a hotel.
Hodgson had two assists Match 19 in Tampa Bay, his first points with Buffalo. He followed with a two-goal effort two nights later against Montreal.
“I don’t want to say a lot’s changed, but it’s going better right now,” Hodgson said. “I really like playing with the guys. We’re getting a lot of chances.”
While the slick trio of Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno and Drew Stafford has been garnering most of the attention, Hodgson’s line has quietly been effective.
Vanek, who slowed down during the winter, had two goals and six points in the last five games entering Friday.
Tropp, whose supreme work battling and grabbing loose pucks creates offense, has possibly established himself as a regular NHL player.
“It just seems to be some chemistry,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “It seems Corey on the left side has been the worker there, had done a great job down low, has made some nice plays.
“I think Cody’s skating. He seems refreshed finally. He’s been able to hit holes and make good plays.
“You’ve got Thomas on that side is now starting to capitalize on some of the opportunities. Realistically, Thomas probably could’ve had four or five the last couple games but only has two.”
Hodgson added: “Everyone knows about Thomas Vanek. He’s one of the best players in the league for a long time. Corey works so hard, I really think he makes our line work. He’s getting every loose puck. He wins every battle and allows us to play a lot more time in the offensive zone.”
Tropp knew Hodgson, who has 19 goals and 40 points in 79 games – third and fifth among rookies – would bust his slump, which started in Vancouver.
“He’s a heck of a player,” Tropp said. “He loves the game. We have a lot of fun. … He’s always in the right place, a good option to make a play to. He sees the ice real well and gets the puck back to you. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Sabres defenseman Mike Weber – who replaced Christian Ehrhoff (knee) following a four-game absence – left the game after taking a hit from Matt Cooke, returned and departed again.
“The fact he came back, tried to play and couldn’t play tells me that he’ll at least be out (tonight),” Ruff said.
A recall is likely coming.
Notes: Prior to the game, the Sabres named captain Jason Pominville team MVP, goalie Jhonas Enroth rookie of the year and winger Patrick Kaleta unsung hero. … The Sabres scratched also scratched forward Matt Ellis (knee), winger Nathan Gerbe (muscle pull) and center Jochen Hecht (concussion). Ellis participated in the morning skate, but is still “a ways away,” Ruff said. … Center Derek Roy battled a migraine Friday but appears probable for tonight.