Housley: We're making 'different mistakes and things happen fast'

The Sabres head coach joined Howard and Jeremy after Buffalo's loss to the Oilers on Monday

Howard & Jeremy | Weekdays 6a-10a
March 05, 2019 - 2:03 pm

Photo: John E. Sokolowski - USA TODAY Sports


The Buffalo Sabres, once again, have fallen victim to a second period collapse that they could not bounce back from. 

On Monday, the group lost to the Edmonton Oilers, 4-3 at KeyBank Center. The Sabres had a 3-1 lead with 3:31 left in the second period, but allowed Edmonton to score three goals before the period had ended. The team had many chances in the third period to tie the game, but could not convert. In the last five games, their opponents have scored 11 goals in the second period. 

The defense has struggled through a good portion of the season, and Sabres head coach Phil Housley is noticing a number of mistakes that come up almost every game. 

“There are different mistakes and things happen fast,” said Housley during his weekly conversation with Howard Simon and Jeremy White on Tuesday morning. 

“We continue to show them and continue to work on it in practice. We haven’t had a lot of quality practice time to work on it, but, it’s just mainly in our structure. It’s just layers that, when there’s a break down, we’re going to make mistakes. We have the layers in place to help a guy out if he’s fallen or lost a battle. And then, from that point, it’s just sorting out coverage; just getting tighter to our man and not allowing him to get a shot off, or taking someone in front of the net and taking a stick.” 

The Sabres' defensive unit is currently experiencing some injuries to a couple of key players. Jake McCabe is likely done for the season with an upper body injury, while Zach Bogosian, who has been relatively healthy all season, is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Losing two veterans on the blue line calls for more responsibility on behalf of the depth players on the blue line behind them. 

“You know, we’re banged up on the back-end right now with Jake, and [Bogosian] in a day-to-day situation with his lower-body, so we have to go with the guys that we have,” said Housley. “Right now, the players that we have are very capable. They’re doing a lot of good things, it’s just those things that happen very, very quickly. It’s not so much all on the defense, as well. It’s a five-man unit in our defensive zone that have to work together.”

Two players who have been tasked to take up some more minutes with McCabe and Bogosian sidelined are Marco Scandella and Rasmus Ristolainen, who played on a pair on Monday against the Oilers. They struggled throughout the night as both were on the ice for all four of the Oilers' goals in the loss.

When reviewing Ristolainen’s season thus far, the Finnish defenseman has seemed to struggle. He is minus-33 in goal differential when he is on the ice. This number could be skewed by the fact that he is averaging almost 25 minutes per-game. 

“Rasmus is in a tough place right now because a lot of the things he’s doing—it seems like it’s coming back at him,” said Housley. “The thing I do like about Rasmus’ game is his physicality and his competitiveness. The matchups that he faces like Ovechkin, and some of these heavy players, he does a terrific job of shutting these guys down. You can look last night when Kassian is up on his line. He’s playing a physical game, and not a lot of guys can play that way.” 

This physicality can lead to Ristolainen taking himself out of the play. At time, he will try to finish a check instead of getting himself back into the right position, and those are aspects of his game that he may need to work on.

“It’s just those other important times in the game, defensively; just the reads, being quicker to close and being closer to his man that we have to continue to work on with him,” said Housley, as he talks about Ristolainen’s style of play. 

Ristolainen is talented offensively, and has made an impact for the Sabres this season, recording 39 points in 66 games (5G, 34A). 

“Well I think he’s trying to do the right thing,” said Housley. “Some of the decisions when we have a high forward in the offensive zone, he’s trying to make a difference, and stepping up, maybe guarding against if he does have that backside support, so it’s an awareness thing for sure.” 

Ristolainen is not the only one that has struggled this season, especially since the 10-game winning streak in November. The entire team has struggled to play a consistent game, or string of games for that matter. Housley has admitted that he is not content with the team’s even strength play. 

“It’s 5-on-5 goal differential,” said Housley. “If you look around this league, team that’s in a playoff position has a good differential. And that’s one of the things we continue to focus on. We focused on that in training camp. At one point, we did have a good differential, and it slipped. And I think it’s just because of our checking, and realizing, in this game, when it gets tight and the games are getting tougher, that we have to rely on that. We can’t get away from it.”

In the last five games, they have been outscored 22-11, and their current goal differential is minus-23, which places them 22nd in the National Hockey League.

The blame cannot be placed on one or two players, a specific group of guys, or just the players. There are some that think that changing the coach might fix some of their problems. However, Housley is not focused on his future in the organization.

“I don’t even think about that,” Housley said. “I’ve got a job to do. I’m gonna continue to push our group to get better. There’s a lot of good things that have gone on. This is a result driven business, and, right now, even though we’re playing well and doing a lot of good things, we’re not getting the wins. And that’s a priority, so I understand that part of it. But I come to work, [and ask], ‘Where are the areas of improvement? What can we focus on to get better?’ and we can continue pound those messages to our group.”

You can listen to the entire interview below:

Comments ()