Sabres getting 'back to work' on Saturday

The team is trying to remain even-keeled after some recent struggles

Brayton Wilson
February 02, 2019 - 6:02 pm

Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig - USA TODAY Sports

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Friday night's 7-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks at KeyBank Center was a black eye for the Buffalo Sabres and their hopes at the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs.

The loss was filled with more mental mistakes and mistakes with the puck that cost the Sabres dearly in both ends of the ice. The Sabres also passed up on too many opportunities to shoot the puck, despite out-shooting the Blackhawks by a 43-30 total in the loss.

On Saturday, the team got back to the ice in a long, intense practice to try and get back to basics with what made them successful earlier in the 2018-19 season.

"I just think we had to get back to work," said Sabres head coach Phil Housley following practice. "We haven't had a lot of quality practice time, and we addressed some of the things we talked about last night. It was very evident when you watch the film. Although I didn't show them the film. I don't think it was the right time. I think more importantly it was just addressing what has made us successful, what were the mistakes that we were making. If you watch the game by your own eye ball, it's just the concern of when the puck gets turned over, how we're reacting to that.

"You go back to early in the season, we've talked a lot about our checking detail and our identity. I think we've lost a little bit of that identity, but we're going to get that back. I thought we had a good work day in practice today, addressing some of those things and getting back to work. Obviously the result last night was tough to take by everybody in that room. We've addressed it, but we can only control what we can control - how we work today, how we come to work on Monday, and try to put this one behind us and move forward."

"Any times like this when you go through stretches like that, it's easy to sit here and point fingers and get down on each other. I think the important thing here is to stay up on each other, believe in each other. That's what we did today," said Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian, echoing the same thoughts as his coach. "We worked hard, got back to the basics, and at the end of the day, it's a game you can learn from. On the other hand, you play 82 games. You have to string together some games. Today was more of a working mentality. We have a few days between games where we can take advantage of practice, and we did that today."

Bogosian had a particularly tough game on Friday night, contributing to two of the goals against in Buffalo's loss. The first goal came late in the first period as he missed on a pass to Sam Reinhart along the boards, which then went back to the point and into the back of the net seconds later. The second goal was late in the second period when he tried to jump up in the offensive rush, but could not handle a pass at the blue line, which then was turned back the other way for a goal.

However, Bogosian is certainly not the only player who's had it rough in this recent stretch of struggles for the Sabres. Overall, the team has gone 7-14-5 in the 26 games since the Sabres' 10-game win streak back in November.

Bogosian says that it is important for the team to try and stick together during these tough times.

"Mistakes happen. It's a game of mistakes. I think it's important for everyone to stay together," Bogosian said. "As a group, as a whole, as a team we can play better. We can do a better job. It's super important at times like these to stay together and not be pointing fingers."

"We have to find a way to get back to our identity and everybody buying into every shift," said Sabres forward Kyle Okposo, along the lines of what Bogosian said. "It's not like every shift we're giving up chances. There's sometimes where we're pressing for offense and we're not making the right decisions, and then the puck is right back in our own end and we're not defending hard enough. It's not every shift, but it's definitely a lot more than it should be."

The Sabres have 31 games remaining in the season, and currently sit three points back of the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. After Friday's loss to the Blackhawks, Buffalo's chances of making the playoffs, according to sportsclubstats.com, dropped to 29.3-percent, which is a dramatic drop from a more than 80-percent chance after the win streak.

However, Okposo says that the team has to manage themselves in the worst of times, just as they have to when they are winning like they were in the 10-game winning streak.

"It's a long season. You can't get too down and you can't get too high," Okposo said. "You've got to try to remain even-keeled, and I don't think we've done a good job of that. After a win, we're flying high. After a loss, it's not good. That's not a mentality that really good hockey teams have. The really good teams - if they don't play well, they lose, their mentality is that they're going to win the next game. If they win, it's like 'yeah, we played well, but we're going to win the next game too.' That's the mentality of a really good hockey team. I just don't think we've had that this year from everybody."

There were a few players missing from Saturday's skate at HarborCenter, including Remi Elie, who was placed on waivers just before practice got underway. Johan Larsson was a late scratch for Friday's game after taking part in the morning skate. Housley said that he has an upper-body injury and is day-to-day at this time. Matt Hunwick also missed practice on Saturday, with what Housley said was a tweak with a lower-body injury. He was also listed as day-to-day.

As for Carter Hutton, he was absent from practice due to an illness, which Housley said he will also be day-to-day.

Practicing for Hutton on Saturday was John Daigneau, who was the former goalie coach for the Canisius Golden Griffins and current director of goaltending for the Academy of Hockey.

The Sabres will have Sunday off before returning to practice on Monday.

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