Sabres' coach Phil Housley gets the chance to face his old team

Housley learned his trade in Nashville

Paul Hamilton
March 19, 2018 - 12:58 pm

Photo: Paul Hamilton (@pham1717)

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Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) - It’s taken until March 19 for Phil Housley to face his old club, but he’ll get that opportunity tonight as Nashville makes it’s only appearance of the season.

Housley spent four seasons as an assistant with the Predators and he of course is excited to face his old team, “It’s just different, it’s awkward because I spent a lot of time with a lot of those guys and to see where they’re at right now and when you have talent and work ethic, it’s a dangerous combination.”

Peter Laviolette didn’t bring Housley to Nashville, but he was with him for three of the four years. Housley said, “I had two really good mentors. In Barry Trotz, I learned a lot from him my first year and then Lavi came in and I learned a great deal.”

Trotz is fifth in NHL history with 1,514 games coached while Laviolette is 23rd with 1,076 games. Housley said, “These are guys that are veteran coaches. I just absorbed as much as I could from them, but really good people.

“They gave me a lot of responsibility and really listened to my opinion which makes you feel good about yourself.”

Kyle Okposo makes his return to the lineup after missing three games with a concussion. He says he can tell that this is a big game for his head coach, “Yes for sure, I think he wants this game bad and he wants to put on a display of what he’s got to his former club and I’m sure his adrenaline is going to be pumping tonight.”

Housley’s team is 30th in the NHL with a points percentage of .408. Arizona is at .401 and Vancouver is at .410. Needless to say, this isn’t what Housley expected and Okposo said it wears on him, “He is a very competitive and very fiery guy and he wants to win more than anybody and I think that this season is really eating him up that we’re in the position that we’re in.

“I mean he played a long time and he had a lot of success in Nashville and had success throughout his career, so he wants to win.”

Fans see one Phil Housley publically, but there’s a different personality behind closed doors with his team, Okposo said, “He demands a lot and he demands that you work every day to be the best player that you can be and I think that message is really good.”

Before he got hurt, Okposo had 19 points in his last 25 games.

The Sabres are 6-4-1 in their last 11, which is a points percentage of .591. They’re 9-7-2 in their last 18 games, going .556 and 12-10-3 in their last 25 games, which is a points percentage of .540.

Linus Ullmark gets his second start of the season. He made 44 saves beating Columbus 3-1 on Jan. 11.

Robin Lehner didn’t dress for the last game against Chicago and he didn’t practice on Monday. The three practices before he started on the ice, but didn’t finish. Housley said Lehner is a little banged up and is day-to-day. Zemgus Girgensons is also still out.

We certainly made everybody aware of when Sam Reinhart was not playing even near his potential, so I think it’s important to keep letting you know when he’s playing far above expectations. Reinhart has five goals in seven games and in 2018, he has 14 goals and 17 assists for 31 points in 33 games. That would be 35 goals and 77 points over 82 games.

Evan Rodrigues continues to produce picking up 11 points in 13 games. He played on a line with Justin Bailey and Nick Baptiste against the Blackhawks and Chicago didn't have an answer for the speed that those three showed. They will once again be together against the Preds. The rest of the lines are:

 

Wilson - O’Reilly - Reinhart

Pouliot - Eichel - Pominville

Nolan - Larsson - Okposo

 

Scandella - Ristolainen

Guhle - Falk

Beaulieu - Nelson

 

Nashville has the most points in the NHL with 104. That’s a points percentage of .732.

The Predators are one of two teams that have clinched a playoff spot.

Nashville has not lost in regulation since Feb. 17 vs Detroit. In that span, they’ve only lost once and it was a shootout against New Jersey. That means the Preds have won 13 out of 14 games and 18 out of 23.

This is a team that can score from anyplace in the lineup. Just look where the goals come from, Viktor Arvidsson 26, Kevin Fiala 23, Craig Smith 21, Filip Forsberg 20, Calle Jarnkrok 16 and P.K. Subban 15. The have eight players with 42 points or more.

Roman Josi has 37 assists while Subban has 36.

In net, Pekka Rinne is 39-9-4 with a 2.25 goals against and a .929 save percentage. When you get goaltending like that to go with balanced scoring, you know you’re going to be a very good team.

Housley knows this team very well, especially their tendencies. That may help him game plan, “I think it helps a little bit, but we still have to be disciplined in our structure. With Pekka Rinne handling the puck, that’s a thing we have to focus on because he’s like another defenseman.

“There’s not going to be anything in the neutral zone against their team and we’re going to have to be smart and manage that area of the game unlike what we did against Chicago in the second period, we’ve got to be thinking north/south.”

Join Schopp and the Bulldog at 6:00 for the pregame live from 716 when they’ll be joined by Phil Housley, Kyle Okposo and Linus Ullmark.

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