Housley: 'Breakdowns have led to a lot of goals-against'

The Sabres head coach joined Howard and Sal before Tuesday's matchup with the Islanders

Howard & Jeremy | Weekdays 6a-10a
February 12, 2019 - 11:40 am

Photo: Russell LaBounty - USA TODAY Sports

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The Buffalo Sabres are looking for crucial wins against the New York Islanders and New York Rangers this week to stay relevant in the race for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Heading into the sixth game of their seven game homestand that looked to make or break their playoff chances, the team has underperformed, losing three of the five games played to this point. As of late, the Sabres' issues have come on the defensive end, especially when falling behind early or struggling to maintain leads.

“Well, I think first of all, it was our puck management,” said Sabres head coach Phil Housley as he spoke to Howard Simon and Sal Capaccio Tuesday morning, “We were trying to force things that were right there, and then it comes back right at us.”

This past weekend, the Sabres played a pair of well played games that showed the team shoring up their issues a bit in their own end. Buffalo grabbed a much-needed win on Saturday over the Detroit Red Wings, but failed to come up with a win over the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday.

When the team has played inconsistently on defense, it has resulted in struggles for both Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark in goal. The both of them are saving about 91-percent of the shots they face, which is in the bottom third of all goaltenders this season. However, it often feels as though they are performing at high levels based on the types of saves they have to make. Housley does not blame his goaltenders for their issues either, as he highlighted that the defense needs to step up. Too often, the Sabres have made mental mistakes and had “breakdowns” in the defensive zone, and their goalies cannot always “stand on their heads” to make a big save.

“At certain times, those breakdowns have led to a lot of goals-against,” said Housley.

The Sabres have allowed teams to bully them in their own zone, allowing 45 goals in their last 11 games, which includes two games where they allowed seven goals-against.

Throughout many games this season, the team has had issues transitioning from the defensive zone to the neutral zone, committing many atrocious turnovers. Those lead to chances for opponents that Housley calls “grade-A-plus.” His focus as of late is on how his team can minimize those opportunities for opposing teams moving forward.

Luckily, the team has recently found some help on the offensive side from skaters not named Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner. Secondary scoring was a huge issue immediately following the 10-game win streak, but Housley has recently jostled the lines, and those lines have produced. He removed forward Sam Reinhart from the first line and placed him on a line with Casey Mittelstadt and Conor Sheary.

“I like their chemistry right now,” said Housley as he talked about the new trio, “They’re getting opportunities and they’re not spending a lot of time in their own end, which is key when we’re attacking the game.”

This time of year, getting a new wave of energy such as this helps a team during these crucial games. Each game is very important moving forward. Since the Sabres have not won back-to-back games since December, each loss may stick with the players as they go into the next practice or game. Housley stresses the importance of re-booting and re-focusing on what is to come and not dwelling on the past. This is important for players like Mittelstadt and Rasmus Dahlin, who have really come on strong in the last couple weeks, and will need to continue to do so as the Sabres look to fight for a playoff spot this season.

“Rest is really important this time of year, and I think Casey and Rasmus have done a really good job of managing themselves aways from the game—getting their rest and coming prepared,” Housley said.

You can listen to the entire interview below:

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