BUFFALO — Sabres sophomore Nathan Gerbe – the collegiate scoring machine, AHL star and NHL rookie that tallied at a 30-goal pace the second half of last season – has five scores this season, just one in the last 21 games.
Right now, the diminutive Gerbe’s not a scorer; he’s quickly morphed into a strong checker, playing a tenacious left wing on a line with Paul Gaustad and Patrick Kaleta that draws the opposition’s best.
How does Gerbe, a prolific goal scorer his entire career, balance playing well with producing little offensively?
“You just keep going,” Gerbe said Tuesday prior to the Sabres’ 2-1 win over the New York Islanders inside the First Niagara Center. “You can’t pay attention to stats too much because funny things happen where you don’t get the numbers (and) rewarded. Or sometimes you get it and don’t even play well.
“The thing is you just got to come in and work hard every day. It’s mainly my focus. I don’t worry about what the stats say.”
The stats say this will likely be Gerbe’s lowest offensive output ever. With zero scores in the last eight games, he’s on a seven-goal pace. He does, however, have 17 assists, two more than he had all of last season.
Gerbe’s ferocious style lends itself well to a defensive game. He’s quick, hard on pucks and challenges anyone despite being only 5-foot-5. He might lead the Sabres in scrum battles this season. It’s common to see him barking at an opponent after a whistle with his helmet off.
“I think he’s been able to make that adjustment (by utilizing) his speed, creating back pressure, playing a 200-foot game, making sure pucks are getting deep, getting on top of people (so) they can really disrupt other teams’ top lines,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “He gets under the skin. He plays a hard game. He’s the type of kid that won’t back down from anybody and he’s coachable.”