As the calendar flipped from 2010 to 2011, there were numerous questions about the Buffalo Sabres, who sure didn’t look like a team defending a division title. Whether or not Nathan Gerbe deserved to be on the Sabres was one of those questions and at that point, the answer was clearly no. Gerbe was as close to being invisible as one could be. It wasn’t just his stat line which was an unimpressive one goal and six assists, it was the fact that he wasn’t doing anything to contribute to the team’s play. Lindy Ruff took notice because Gerbe was a healthy scratch for seven of the Sabres eleven games between December 15th and January 8th.
The benchings were broken up as he played four games in the middle but that second stint in the press box must have gotten thru to the 5 foot 5 forward because he has been a different player since. Gerbe had just one goal in his first 24 games over the first half of the season. In addition to the benchings, he missed another 8 games due to a fractured jaw. After his two goal performance in Montreal, the Michigan native now has 12 goals in his last 32 games.
But it isn’t just scoring where Gerbe has come alive. He’s exhibiting a combination of toughness, passion and pestiness. Ruff, the man who benched Gerbe, showed a great deal of faith in him the other night when the Sabres were clinging to that one goal lead against the Canadiens. Ruff will put the guys on the ice who can lock down that lead and the important two points that comes with it and there was Gerbe. He made two big plays that created his clinching empty net goal, winning a battle at the Sabres blue line to get the puck out of the zone and then taking P.K. Subban out of the play around center ice.
Gerbe has been a scorer during his last two hockey stops. While at Boston College, he had a 25 goal season followed by a 35 goal campaign. In his first season with Portland, Gerbe had 30 goals, earned a spot on the AHL’s All Rookie team and was named the league’s most outstanding rookie. But the transition to the NHL had been a struggle up until two months ago.
You’d think Gerbe’s lack of size would catch up to him at this level but Ruff says it makes his very difficult to play against. A combination of quickness and strength make him hard to trap and when he’s agitating, Gerbe is annoying to play against. Ruff says he’s one of the hardest working guys on the team which is obviously paying off for him these days but perhaps it rubs off on teammates as well. Ruff thinks Gerbe can be a consistent 20 goal scorer, 30 if everything goes right. You would have been considered crazy to even suggest that two months ago.