Sabres' Sobotka is making a good impression on his team

The winger is playing better and enjoying the game

Paul Hamilton
October 23, 2019 - 2:00 pm

Photo: Stan Szeto - USA TODAY Sports

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Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) - Vladimir Sobotka was the fans' whipping boy during last season. It wasn’t a good year for him and during the summer, he decided he needed to change some things.

Some of the fans refuse to give him a chance and see how much he's improved. The man that has given him a chance is head coach Ralph Krueger, “Sobotka just doesn’t get the credit he deserves here. He’s allowing [Marcus] Johansson and [Jeff] Skinner some freedom here to take some risks here and there. He’s a unbelievable physical presence on that line, and he’s just been an unbelievable strength in character here, showing the young guys how we need to play. The way he stays above the puck, the way he plays a responsible game with it, but this is showing up in practice and carrying it into games. This is not luck what’s happening here.”

Johansson hasn't played center since his rookie year in Washington. He said he loves having Sobotka on his line because he helps him a lot,“He brings a lot both offensively and defensively. He works so hard on both sides of the puck, and for me being kind of new at center, it feels very good to have him out there to help me out and sometimes split that work."

Johansson also feels that Sobotka deserves more recognition for his game, “He’s just such a solid two-way player, and he sees the ice very well and makes some really good plays, and I think he doesn’t always get credit for it.”

Krueger tells the players that there’s a team within the team when you’re talking lines, power play and penalty killing. Jimmy Vesey kills penalties up top with Sobotka, and the veteran has had some tips for Vesey, “I’ve talked to him about just the reads. There are times where you need to be patient and there are times where we need to be active, so I think he’s done a really good job.”

In Tuesday’s game against San Jose, the Sabres produced many offensive chances in the first period because they were forcing the Sharks into turnovers in the offensive zone. Krueger said it’s the group mentality that they have all over the ice, “It’s the initial player always looking for that gap pressure at the puck, but then without any support behind him, and a disconnect with the rest of the group, you won’t end up with possession. The possession always comes out of the second and third layers of support.”

Sobotka leads the Sabres forwards in hits by a lot. He said he likes getting in hard to the corners, “We forecheck. We forecheck well. We’re really fast on the ice and we steal a lot of pucks when we’re on the forecheck, so I think that gives us some jump in a game.”

Sobotka’s 20 hits is third overall on the team and is 57th in the NHL. He said it’s all in the way you look at the game, “I just feel better, and the most important thing is the support when you know you’re not wasting energy on something that can’t get the puck on, and that’s frustrating. So I feel like this year is more playing together and it makes more sense to go into the corner and hit because there’s another guy that are going to help you.”

There’s always support and it doesn’t matter which side. We’re always two or three together and we’re playing together.”

When I saw Sobotka last year, he was miserable on the ice and around the room. Things have totally changed this year. He smiles in practice, during games, around the locker room, and he’s much happier, “I’m enjoying every minute of playing hockey and I’ve just tried to change a couple of things from last year and it seems to be working. I’m having fun.”

Krueger speaks with his staff every day about sports science and about analytics. He uses a little bit of everything, because he knows it’s not just about analytics, “I speak about those areas of no statistics that we have so many of in hockey. There’s no analytics that will ever be able to summarize some of the work that’s being done right now, and it’s the guys buying into all those non-statistical efforts that make the difference in a hockey game and we just cannot let go of that.”

Casey Mittelstadt has received a lot of credit for the defensive play he made that led to Jack Eichel’s overtime goal. Krueger said when Mittelstadt made the play, the bench reacted the same way it would had they scored right then, “What I do spend time on is the way our bench erupted when Casey backchecked. It was crazy. I mean, I’m watching the entire bench cheering Casey’s drive back to our net, and it’s that lead up to the goal that makes you proud of what the group is doing as a coach.”

The Sabres practiced in Buffalo on Wednesday before heading to New York to play the Rangers on Thursday.

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