Housley: We had good looks, but 'couldn’t get that second goal'

The Sabres head coach checked in with Howard and Jeremy from Florida before Tuesday's matchup with the Panthers

Howard & Jeremy | Weekdays 6a-10a
February 19, 2019 - 12:56 pm

Photo: Julio Cortez - Associated Press

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With just 24 games left in the 2018-19 season, the Buffalo Sabres find themselves six points back of the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Over the weekend, the club lost badly to two of the bottom teams in the National Hockey League, and were outscored 9-3 in those two games. The Sabres lost to the New York Rangers 6-2 at home on Friday, and then traveled to New Jersey on Sunday where they were stuffed by the Devils 4-1. As much of the Sabres turmoil was equated to their sloppy play in the defensive zone, it was their lack of offensive production that led to their last two defeats.

“I thought we had a tremendous push in the third period. We couldn’t get that second goal and we had a lot of good looks," said Sabres head coach Phil Housley, reflecting on the Sabres game against New Jersey with Howard Simon and Jeremy White on Tuesday morning. "Larsson hits his shoulder and Mittelstadt’s really in a good prime scoring area, and we don’t get that goal.”

The opportunities are there for the Sabres, but their inability to finish is costing them games at this point in their season. Housley pointed out that the team, when off the rush, are fourth in the NHL in shots from the slot; however, the puck has not often found the back of the net. One factor could be the Sabres lack of toughness in front of the net, and their inability to squeeze the crease and screen opposing goaltenders.  

“It’s a timing issue,” said Housley, “When the puck is arriving, we are fading off in the wrong direction instead of staying over the top of the goalie.

“It’s just fighting for that loose puck, fighting for that second opportunity. So, it’s not so much that we’re not getting there, [or] we’re not getting shots from there. It’s just a critical time when the shots delivered, and just planting our feet and staying over top of that goalie. That’s an art, there’s a lot of good guys on the team that can do it.”

With the Sabres needing to make things more difficult in front of the opposition's end, things in front of their own net need to be shored up as well. However, the team finds itself shorthanded on defense with Marco Scandella not traveling with the team on this road trip. His status been downgraded to week-to-week with an upper-body injury.

Two other defensive leaders, Rasmus Ristolainen and Zach Bogosian, did not practice on Monday and are game-time decisions.

This could mark the return of defenseman Casey Nelson, who was recalled from his conditioning assignment with the Rochester Americans on Monday. Nelson has not played with the Sabres since December 4, but Housley was not too eager to commit Nelson to game-time action in the near future. He said that the team will wait and evaluate the status of Ristolainen and Bogosian before any decisions are to be made, but he is happy to have Nelson back. 

"It certainly is great to have Casey back with us after he fulfilled his assignment," Housley said. "[Nelson] had a good practice yesterday, all-be-it was a short one to get our energy ready for tonight."

With the little hope that is left for the team to make a final push for playoff contention, they will rely heavily on the team’s youth to bring a spark for the last quarter of the season.

Housley is impressed is with the development of the young guys like Lawrence Pilut and Tage Thompson. He also feels that Casey Mittelstadt has made some great strides throughout the season, and was happy to get him back after he missed games against the New York Islanders and Rangers. 

“I like where Casey’s development is," Housley said. "His first game back he took a couple shifts for him to get into, but I like the way he attacked the game. He’s trying to create offense. Playing well at both ends of the ice. These guys can definitely provide a spark for us moving forward."

You can listen to the entire interview below:

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