Finally, Derek Roy has started showcasing flashes of his old self.
The slick center scored his first goal Friday, zooming into the zone and connecting with linemate Drew Stafford’s pass, his first tally in almost 10 months. On Saturday, Roy was open in front, ready to bury Stafford’s winning shot if the winger couldn’t connect.
Regaining some normalcy hasn’t been easy, though. Last season, a torn quadriceps sidelined Roy four months until the playoff finale. Then, in his second preseason appearance, Roy injured his shoulder, shelving him until the season opener.
Understandably, just four games in, Roy’s not quite up to speed beside Stafford and Nathan Gerbe, his new linemates.
“Battling some injuries throughout training camp and not playing for eight months, it definitely puts its toll on the body,” Roy said Monday inside the First Niagara Center after the Sabres prepared for tonight’s tilt in Montreal.
So far, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has limited Roy’s ice time, skating him about 16 minutes a game, almost four less than usual. Ruff raised it about a minute over the weekend, when he saw Roy “involved a little bit more in the offensive side of it.”
“(He) still doesn’t quite have that extra step to create the chances he’s able to create,” Ruff said. “He’s still kind of caught in that getting up to speed form.”
Roy said the back-to-back weekend games had him getting “up to speed and up to par with the game.”
“(You) start learning things that you knew back in the past,” the 28-year-old said. “You’re still trying to relearn them right off the bat. It’s difficult, but I’m sticking with it, working hard and I’ll get out of it.”
An elite Roy pivoting two emerging stars is certainly intriguing. With a goal and two points from Roy, the new trio already has a combined five scores and 10 points, although some have been accumulated elsewhere.
Roy, who had 35 points in 35 games last year, started the preseason with Thomas Vanek, his personal left wing for years, and captain Jason Pominville. But rookie Luke Adam subbed well, so Ruff formed the new combination for the season opener, spreading scoring across three lines.
“You look at Nathan and Drew, they’re both goal scorers,” Ruff said. “If Derek can get them the puck and make them plays, they both have tremendous shots. I look at it like it should be a good offensive line for us.”
Gerbe could be the line’s X-factor. Fresh off a strong finish last year — he tallied 16 times in his final 44 contests — the diminutive American appears primed for a breakout season.
He scored his first early Saturday in the Sabres’ 3-2 win in Pittsburgh, lugging the puck from his own end, shooting and eventually connecting on Adam’s rebound. In the third period, he roared into the opposing zone again, leaving a perfect drop pass above the right circle for Stafford’s third goal.
“It follows up the playoffs, the finish he had to the year,” Ruff said. “I really think he’s been playing hard. He’s been playing well. He’s good with the puck. I think he’s just really continued from where he was at last year.”
Gerbe caught fire as a rookie after enduring 20 goalless games. A year later, he’s brimming with confidence.
He had been playing with Paul Gaustad and Patrick Kaleta, his linemates late last year.
“I had no expectations in terms of lines,” Gerbe said. “I know things juggle around, and I’m sure they’ll switch again.
“No matter what line I play on, I’m going to play the same way,” he added. “I’m going to work hard, a north and south game and shoot the puck. Those two are very creative. They can score on their chances.”
Right now, the trio could stick together, especially with Stafford having scored in three straight games. But he hasn’t simply picked up where he left off following his first 30-goal campaign.
“I think Drew had to find himself a little bit,” Ruff said. “He struggled a little through camp. There was some frustration with not scoring. But I think the fact he was able to get on the board, and then get a couple in a row, he seems a lot more relaxed now. I think he was pretty uptight about not scoring.”
The Sabres have used the same six defensemen this year, leaving Mike Weber, a regular the second half of 2010-11, in street clothes.
Weber will eventually play. So who comes out if everyone’s healthy?
Rookie Marc-Andre Gragnani, who made several mistakes Saturday, could be a candidate.
“Marc has played well through the end of last year, played well through the playoffs,” Ruff said. “I think his last game in Pitt (he had) a little bit of a tough time. So Marc, you know what he provides for us. He’s made some great plays on the power play for us. It’s the defending that Marc still has to work on.”
Rookie backup goalie Jhonas Enroth, who dazzled in his first start this past Saturday, will get another nod on the Sabres’ current four-game road trip, Ruff said. They also play Thursday in Florida and Saturday in Tampa Bay.