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Sabres focused on present, not past during difficult stretch

Confident they can avoid repeat of last season after missing playoffs following fast start

by Heather Engel / Independent Correspondent

BUFFALO -- The Buffalo Sabres are focused on the present, not the past.

The Sabres are 1-5-1 since an 8-1-1 start to the season and are winless in their past five games (0-4-1) after losing two games against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the 2019 NHL Global Series in Stockholm last weekend.

They're hoping to avoid a repeat last season when they won 10 games in a row from Nov. 8-27, putting them atop the Eastern Conference at 17-6-2. But a 16-33-8 record the rest of the way dropped them to 13th in the conference, 22 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the East.

"I'm a new head coach here this year and that doesn't interest me at all," coach Ralph Krueger said. "What interests me is the way the team was playing. We've definitely looked at it and everything. But we're building a new story here and this is a completely different season with a different group of guys with a huge buy-in here and a healthy base of confidence at the moment and I don't feel anything but that. 

"What are we doing now, how are we building our story this year, and what was last year is not relevant to our story that we're building."

Despite their recent struggles, there has been a different vibe in the locker room.

"Oh yeah, for sure. There's no panic," forward Kyle Okposo said. "It doesn't make any sense to think or talk about last year. [Kruger] just does such a good job communicating it and getting us in the proper frame of mind and the mind frame that he wants us to be in. There's new challenges every season and this year is presenting some different challenges. We're looking to face those and just keep moving forward."

Video: FLA@BUF: Larsson lifts wrist shot past Bobrovsky

Now the Sabres will embark on a grueling stretch in their schedule in which they'll play 21 games in 40 days leading up to the Christmas break, including 10 games in 17 days to close out November. The stretch begins against the Carolina Hurricanes at KeyBank Center on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; MSG-B, FS-CR, NHL.TV). 

To help the team get through it, Krueger is breaking up the schedule into smaller sections consisting of four to six games rather than the bigger picture.

"We need four lines going, we need more than six 'D' going," Krueger said. "There's a possibility with the healthy 'D' that somebody will go in or out and things like that to use fresh energy. We need to use our roster and manage it by keeping the picture small, though, and continually within this pace look for improvement. So, there's a lot of things there, but we feel comfortable going into it. It's going to be a lot of fun. Let's show our good side here right off the hop."

Video: BUF@TBL: Olofsson spins and scores in home country

The Sabres will be without forward Vladimir Sobotka, who is out 4 to 6 weeks after sustaining a lower-body injury on a hit by Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov at 14:20 of the first period in a 3-2 loss in Stockholm on Friday. Sobotka, who did not play the following day in a 5-3 loss to the Lightning, had been playing in the top six as the right wing on a line with Marcus Johansson and Jeff Skinner. Johansson (upper body) did not practice Wednesday and is day to day.

However, Buffalo could soon be getting a boost on defense. Zach Bogosian, who has yet to play this season after recovering from offseason hip surgery, and Marco Scandella, who was injured against the New York Rangers on Oct. 24, practiced with the team for the first time Wednesday. Scandella is day to day and Bogosian is week to week.

Video: BUF@NYR: Scandella nets wrister from top of circle

Regardless of who's in the lineup, the Sabres feel this season won't end how last season did, and they hope it ends up with a berth in the playoffs for the first time since the 2010-11 season.

"Last year's last year and I think everyone has things that they would do differently, things they would change - and now's the time to do that," forward Casey Mittelstadt said. "We know we're not going to be perfect all year, we're going to have tough stretches. It's just how you face it, how you deal with it."

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