A lack of sleep didn’t prevent Matt Moulson from delivering in his Buffalo Sabres debut on Monday night.
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Moulson scored twice in a 4-3 loss to the Dallas Stars a little over a day after being acquired in a trade that sent Thomas Vanek to the New York Islanders. As if getting traded wasn’t enough, Moulson was on his way to the airport at 4:30 a.m. to catch a flight to Buffalo.
"Well, my wife always says I play my best games when I’m tired," Moulson said with a laugh. "So I’m going to have to stay up until 2 in the morning every day, I guess."
Moulson didn’t look out of place in taking over for Vanek on the Sabres top line, rounded out by center Cody Hodgson and winger Tyler Ennis.
Ennis faked a shot and sent a pass into the middle to set up Moulson’s opening goal 3:26 in that tied the game at 1. Moulson then cut the Stars lead to 4-3 late in the second period when he collected a loose puck in front and beat goalie Kari Lehtonen.
He now has a team-leading eight goals and 11 points.
The setting might be new, but Moulson’s uncertainty about his future beyond this season hasn’t changed. He arrived in Buffalo unsure whether the Sabres would be his last stop this season.
"I’m just going to take it day by day," Moulson said earlier in the day. "If it’s for however long, a long period of time, a short period of time or whatever they have planned, I’m going to play and compete, play my game and try to help this team get wins."
Moulson’s uncertainty stems from him being in the final year of his contract. That makes the 29-year-old eligible to test free agency next summer, when he’s expected to attract lucrative offers.
The Islanders deemed the three-time, 30-goal scorer expendable by dealing Moulson and two draft picks in a trade to acquire Buffalo’s leading scorer, Thomas Vanek, who is also in the final year of his contract.
Moulson could eventually find himself on the move again with Buffalo (2-11-1) in the process of rebuilding from scratch.
Though Moulson provides Buffalo some much-needed offense, the key to the deal for the Sabres was an opportunity to continue stockpiling draft picks. They acquired a first-round selection in 2014, and a second-rounder in 2015.
Intent on developing a young lineup that features four 18-year-olds, Buffalo has matched its worst start in franchise history. It’s unclear yet how Moulson fits in the team’s plans, which opens the possibility of the Sabres trading him to address additional needs.
In discussing the trade on Sunday, general manager Darcy Regier said Moulson "will address our current needs."
In his seventh NHL season, Moulson developed his scoring touch over the previous four seasons on Long Island. He began the day having scored 118 goals since 2009-10 to rank 10th among NHL players over that stretch.
Coach Ron Rolston noted that Moulson has a reputation for being a good role model, which is something important in helping develop the Sabres youth.
"You lose somebody of the stature of Thomas Vanek, you have to be really be careful on who you bring in," Rolston said. "That helps set the culture that you have here."
Captain Steve Ott liked what he saw from the newcomer.
"Give him a couple of practices and he’ll start building some chemistry," Ott said. "He’s a special talent, and that’s why we acquired him."