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Housley sees Predators as model for Sabres

Buffalo first-year coach relates to former team's blueprint for success

by Mike Zeisberger / Staff Writer

BUFFALO - Nine months after coming two wins shy of hoisting the Stanley Cup, Phil Housley once again will be behind the bench for a Nashville Predators game.

Only this time, he'll be trying to beat them.

Having served as a Predators assistant from 2013-17, Housley, 54, was named as coach of the Buffalo Sabres on June 15, 2017. He'll face his former team for the first time when Nashville plays Buffalo at KeyBank Center on Monday (7 p.m. ET; MSG-B, FS-TN, NHL.TV). 

When it comes to jersey colors, the Predators and Sabres predominantly wear blue and gold. There are no such similarities between Nashville and Buffalo when it comes to the NHL standings.

Nashville leads the League with 104 points (47-14-10) and became the first team to clinch a berth in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 4-2 victory against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday.

Video: The crew discuss the Predators' playoff-clinching win

Buffalo, with 58 points (23-36-12), is 46 behind Nashville. Only the Arizona Coyotes, with 57, have less than the Sabres, who were eliminated from the playoffs on Saturday.

"I know there are a lot of differences between the two teams," Housley said. "That's obvious.

"But to tell you the truth, this version of our team has a lot in common to the one in Nashville during my first year there in 2013."

The Predators missed the playoffs in 2013-14 but made them in each of the following three seasons. Nashville reached the Final for the first time in franchise history in 2017, losing 4-2 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"I look at Nashville the first year I got there and I see a lot of similarities to this team," Housley said. "I mean, our record is a little bit different. But the development of the young players, the guys going up and going down, and the subsequent development, those are the things I can relate to dating back to my early days in Nashville. 

"I like to think I've helped in the development (of Predators players). I think it's a terrific D-corps. And the forwards have done a terrific job. But a lot of those guys have had to come up the hard way and I think they appreciate that. 

"I'd like to think I've had a hand in some of their success. But when Monday comes, well, we're trying to win hockey games."

Indeed, when the puck is dropped, friends will become foes, especially when Housley looks over at the Predators bench at coach Peter Laviolette. Housley was a member of Laviolette's coaching staff for his final three seasons in Nashville.

"I just think I had two really good mentors," Housley said. "Working with Barry Trotz in my first season there, I learned about preparation and the technical part of the game. And Lavy, he was equal to the same. He was a very good motivator. At the same time he was a very good technical coach as well.

"I just tried to listen and watch and absorb as much as I could. Those are guys who have been in the League a long time and understand what it takes to win. You can see it in their success as coaches. And right now Nashville under Lavy is really playing good hockey."

Housley is not surprised that the Predators have overcome the heartache of coming so excruciatingly close to winning the Stanley Cup. In his opinion, the resiliency and determination of Nashville is a reflection of general manager David Poile.

"I think the front office is a key," Housley said. "David did a really good job of trying to make our team better in Nashville. And you could see the result last year. Even though we got in as the 16th team, we were playing really good hockey at the time we got into the playoffs.

"It's just a really good group in there. From a players perspective, they play for each other, they hold each other accountable, and there's really good leadership. You don't see too many lows during the season. It says a lot about the players and how David has tried to make them better, including the deals he's made this year. And their guys have done a terrific job of keeping focussed."

 Using the Predators model as a blueprint, Housley has seen improvement in his Sabres in the past six weeks. Buffalo has gone 9-8-1 in its past 17 games, a run that includes victories against upper-echelon opponents like the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs.

One player who has started to thrive under Housley's tutelage is Sabres forward Sam Reinhart, 22. In his past 27 games, Reinhart has 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists) including a three-point performance in Buffalo's 5-3 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday.

Video: TOR@BUF: Reinhart sweeps home Wilson's great pass

"You get used to people as you are around them on a daily basis," Reinhart said. "I'm starting to understand what (Housley) wants out of everyone. More importantly, I'm understanding what's expected of me and the amount of freedom that lets me play my game where I'm comfortable to how he wants me to fit in.

"We had a lot of personnel changes on and off the ice in the past year. It takes some time to get used to. We're hoping these last couple of weeks will be a step in the right direction and we can move forward and finish off strong."

Getting a win for Housley against the Predators would be a good start.

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