Marcus Johansson is his own harshest critic. He critiques his game when he feels it's not up to his standard, so much so that coach Ralph Krueger has said the forward can be too hard on himself.
Lately, however, Johansson has felt better. He has a point in five of his last six games and has settled into a role centering Victor Olofsson and Dominik Kahun.
"I feel like I'm skating better, a little bit more comfortable with the puck again," Johansson said. "It kind of goes to the point where you don't have confidence and you know you can do it and you want to do it, you force things a little bit, you don't kind of get it to work.
"I feel like lately it's just kind of come a little bit naturally for myself as well and I'm starting to find myself a little bit more again. It makes it more fun to play hockey, too."
We wrote Tuesday about how Kahun has enjoyed early success with the Sabres due in part to his chemistry with Johansson. Krueger described the line as having an "east-west" offensive dynamic and Olofsson suggested their ability to change places on the rush makes them unpredictable for defenses.
Johansson, too, has felt the benefits of this newly formed trio. Though they rarely played together during the regular season, Johansson and Olofsson have both said they had immediate chemistry early in training camp. Kahun's style has been a perfect complement.
"We grew up playing the same type of hockey and we all like to play with the puck and hold onto it and make plays, kind of a European style a little bit, I guess," Johansson said.
"… Sometimes there's something that clicks. So far, it's been good. We've created a lot of chances and scored a couple goals. So hopefully we can keep that going."
Krueger, who spent more than three decades playing and coaching in Europe, also suggested the trio's chemistry can be traced to their similar origins.
"I just think they have similar concepts of how they like to play, and the movement, for everybody to see, there's a European past in their education," he said. "They just have a way of finding the lanes. That movement, interchanging of positions, rarely are they stuck in one lane or in one position.
"They're always looking for speed and space and they're finding each other really nicely, too. There's good puck movement there, and very threatening on the rush, which is something we feel from the top teams in the league is where they're most effective."
Krueger not surprised by Dahlin's shootout
Video: AFTER PRACTICE: Ralph Krueger
The Sabres had only participated in three shootouts this season entering their game against Washington on Monday, with only Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart seeing attempts. So, while Rasmus Dahlin hadn't yet taken an attempt in his NHL career, Krueger said he was always high on the list.
Dahlin faked a slap shot before scoring five-hole against Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, a move he said was partially inspired former Sabres forward Linus Omark (more in the video below).
Video: SABRES IN :50
Krueger pointed back to Dahlin's assist on Eichel's goal earlier in the night - in which he faked a shot before passing across the offensive zone to set up an Eichel one-timer - as evidence of the offensive "genius" that he felt would carry over to the skills competition.
"It didn't surprise us," Krueger said. "He's just got that genius in him. He had that deception on Jack's goal on the power play, too. His deception creates the empty net. He freezes the entire penalty kill of Washington and he shows that genius there on the shootout, which was a lot of fun."
Krueger also offered a bit of insight into his selection process for the shootouts. He goes into the game with an ordered list of six names, then communicates with assistant coach Mike Bales - who works with the goalies - to decide who goes in the seventh round and beyond.
Choices are made based on success in practice shootouts, matchup fits versus the opposing goaltender, and even player personality.
"It's not goal scorer related, really," he said. "There is a need for deception and also a psychological component. I've been in many world tournaments and Olympics where there were critical penalty shot situations and you definitely look at the personality."
53 Jeff Skinner - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
68 Victor Olofsson - 90 Marcus Johansson - 95 Dominik Kahun
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 21 Kyle Okposo
13 Jimmy Vesey - 27 Curtis Lazar - 17 Wayne Simmonds
67 Michael Frolik
10 Henri Jokiharju, 19 Jake McCabe, 24 Lawrence Pilut, 26 Rasmus Dahlin, 33 Colin Miller, 55 Rasmus Ristolainen, 62 Brandon Montour
35 Linus Ullmark
40 Carter Hutton