When it comes to looking back at the Buffalo Sabres' loss in Vegas on Tuesday, Phil Housley said there's a difference between dwelling on the past and learning from it. Thus practice on Thursday ended on a lighthearted note, with fill-in goaltender Ryan Vinz called upon to break the huddle at center ice (more on him later).
At the same time, Housley maintained that the Sabres need to be aware of what hampered them in their game against the Golden Knights, one that saw them struggle through two periods before finally erasing a three-goal deficit in an eventual overtime loss.
"I think it's just how you prepare," Housley said. "You look at our situation, we had a day off in Vegas. Sometimes you decompress as a player and you've got to get yourself geared up for the battle again at the start of the game. I think that lacked. A switch went off.
"We got fired up for the third period, we got a point."
Prior to the loss in Vegas, the Sabres had been proud of the way they began their last two games in Los Angeles and Anaheim. In those two periods, they controlled the pace of play on their way to outshooting opponents a combined 23-17 and outscoring them 2-0.
The next step is to do that consistently, which players said begins at an individual level.
"Everyone's different," alternate captain Ryan O'Reilly said. "Some guys can do things a lot quicker than others. It depends on the guy. You've got to find your own way to get going and find what we need to do. But yeah, I think we need to start better and I think that's to a man."
"You can do as much team stuff as you want but at the end of the day, it boils down to you as an individual player," forward Evander Kane said. "Not everything's going to work for everybody, so you have to find your own method, your own routine, whether that's before the game, during the game, at home. You've got to find out what works for you and come ready to play."
The preparedness is as much mental as it is physical. In the first two periods against Vegas, O'Reilly felt the Sabres were overthinking with the puck in an attempt to avoid mistakes. In games they start well, he said, it feels more like they're letting loose and just playing.
"When you're not thinking and you're just trusting your instincts, you could see how much better it is," O'Reilly said. "In the sense that we have to be more focused but in a different way. We need to be focused on the process and not the outcome."
"Everything becomes a little easier," forward Kyle Okposo added. "Everyone seems to be a step ahead. I think that's where we need to get to."
Okposo said that his own preparation has changed as he's progressed through his NHL career. The same goes for young players as they continue to develop in the league, which the Sabres have no shortage of. Finding a way to consistently bring their best from puck drop is part of the process for Housley and his team.
"I think guys prepare well," Kane said. "I think we just need to get it to that next level."
The back up to the back up to the back up
You may remember Vinz from his cup of coffee with the Sabres during the 2013-14 season, when he dressed as an emergency backup to Jhonas Enroth after Ryan Miller was traded less than two hours prior to a game against the San Jose Sharks.
Now the Director of Hockey Technology at HarborCenter, Vinz was called upon again for practice on Thursday with Robin Lehner feeling under the weather.
"Our back up to the back up to the back up," Housley joked. "It was fun to have him out there. Guys enjoyed it."
You can hear from Vinz later this afternoon in today's Sabres Now with Brian Duff.
Jacob Josefson and Zemgus Girgensons were absent after sustaining lower-body injuries in Anaheim and Vegas, respectively. Housley said Josefson is week-to-week, while Girgensons is day-to-day. Sam Reinhart moved from the wing to center in their absence.
On defense, Josh Gorges did not participate while Zach Bogosian and Justin Falk - both of whom have missed the entirety of the regular season thus far - remained absent. Gorges is day-to-day, while Bogosian and Falk are week-to-week. Housley said Falk is currently skating on his own.
Lines at practice
9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
95 Justin Bailey - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
67 Benoit Pouliot - 23 Sam Reinhart - 25 Seth Griffith
26 Matt Moulson - 22 Johan Larsson - 17 Jordan Nolan
Defense: 6 Marco Scandella, 55 Rasmus Ristolainen, 19 Jake McCabe, 82 Nathan Beaulieu, 5 Matt Tennyson, 93 Victor Antipin
31 Chad Johnson