Krueger: It's about playing within our principles and desired structure

Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger joined Howard and Jeremy ahead of Buffalo's trip to Western Canada

Howard & Jeremy | Weekdays 6a-10a
December 04, 2019 - 9:45 am
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Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig - USA TODAY Sports

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While the month of November ended up not going so well for the Buffalo Sabres with a 3-8-3 record in 14 games, the team started to put things together with a strong six-game stretch to close out the month. Buffalo ended up going 2-2-2 in that stretch with wins over the Florida Panthers and the Toronto Maple Leafs in convincing fashion.

The Sabres opened the month of December with a statement 7-1 win over the New Jersey Devils at KeyBank Center that got them to an overall record of 13-10-5 through 28 games this season. That currently has Buffalo tied for second place in the Atlantic Division with the Panthers at 31 points, but still 14 points back of the first place Boston Bruins.

Up next for the Sabres will be a challenging three-game road trip through Western Canada, starting Thursday night with a matchup against the Calgary Flames, followed by matchups with the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday afternoon and Edmonton Oilers on Sunday night.

Buffalo has been getting some key contributions to its success in the recent stretch of games, including some much needed goal scoring with 25 goals in the last seven games.

Sabres captain Jack Eichel has been red-hot for the Sabres as of late, riding a 10-game point streak with nine goals and 10 assists along the way. Victor Olofsson has also played well in his rookie season with 12 points (5+7) in his last 13 games played.

Defensively, the Sabres have gotten some strong play from their goaltending while limiting the opposition to just 19 goals-against in the last seven games.

Linus Ullmark has appeared to cement himself as the Sabres' No. 1 goalie for the time being. Over his last seven games, Ullmark has a 4-2-1 record with a 2.60 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage. He has earned the start in seven of the team's last 11 games played since returning from Sweden for the NHL Global Series.

Along the way, the Sabres have had to deal with some adversity as injuries have taken its toll on the team at forward. For the last handful of games, Buffalo has resorted to playing with just 11 forwards in the lineup, while playing with an extra defenseman and rotating guys around.

Luckily for Buffalo, the team is starting to get some healthy bodies back to practice, including both Evan Rodrigues (lower-body injury) and Kyle Okposo (concussion), who both returned to the ice this week.

Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger took the time on Wednesday morning to join Howard Simon and Jeremy White for his weekly appearance on WGR. He touched base on some of the key injuries to the lineup, as well as the team's play while shorthanded up front and more.

Here is some of what he had to say:

 

Krueger on getting Evan Rodrigues and Kyle Okposo back at practice:

"Rodrigues is definitely back up to speed and it was good to see him back in the group yesterday, but it was his first skate, so we'll be integrating him gradually. He should be available [for the Western Canada trip]. We get one more practice again today, which is a beautiful things with two practices in two days, and we'll know more after today. He's very close."

"We were so happy to see Kyle back on the ice yesterday. We all know how much was on the line here with another head injury, and we were pleased to see him back. He felt good yesterday in practice. We will be taking it slower with Kyle, for sure, but he's very close, which is good. These are experienced guys who help in the maturity of the process that we're in right now. We were all happy to see Kyle on the ice yesterday practicing with us."

 

Krueger on the health of Rasmus Dahlin:

"Rasmus is not going on the trip. That's one we also need to be careful on. We're happy with the progress that he's making [with his recovery from a concussion] and we're optimistic that we will have him back soon, but we're going to leave him here to rehab one more week and hopefully he can re-integrate next week."

 

Krueger on playing with 11 forwards and seven defensemen:

"When you look at us playing 7-11, which is very rare in the National Hockey League, we've had a lot of success with that in this past week. That would mean seven defensemen rotating in seven different pairs, so each player actually has two partners that he goes with. You can get a seven-pair rotation. It has worked really well for us. It has kept the group energized.

"The 11 forwards has been interesting too. It's been difficult to match against us because we have a line with [Rasmus] Asplund and [Zemgus] Gigrensons that doesn't have anybody injected in there. Jack will play with them, you'll have [Jeff Skinner] in there, or other players so the opposition's coach has a little bit of trouble reading us. On the road this week, we might stick with that strategy, but we'll just keep it in the pocket for now."

 

Krueger on Victor Olofsson's growth this season in Buffalo:

"The habits he has are outstanding. He is extremely responsible defensively too. What that does is that he is often is above the puck and when it becomes available to us, Jack and Sam [Reinhart] are so good at puck possession, Victor's outstanding at finding the holes, and his shot is a lethal weapon that we're seeing more and more in his first season in the National Hockey League. We all know that takes time before you reach your peak, and his peak is still a long way to go. Everybody in Buffalo has got to be excited about that."

 

Krueger on the maturation of Jack Eichel:

"He just really is maturing quickly and understanding what we need in a game. His offense, actually, is profiting from it. He's so well positioned defensively, he's as quick back into our own end as anybody on the team and he understands what his responsibilities are. A lot of our offense comes out of the good defense that we're playing, at times, and we can explode the other way with the defense involved. Jack is just as strong and as quick as anybody in the league, and he uses that now on both sides of the puck and he's having a lot of fun with that. We're really pleased. He's a leader off the ice, but he's definitely also an example and a leader on the ice. It's hard to sometimes to believe that he's only 23 years of age."

 

You can listen to the entire interview below:

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