Following a practice geared more toward rest and lightening the mood on Sunday morning, the Buffalo Sabres turned up the tempo as they got back to work at HarborCenter on Tuesday. It was the kind of session that he become a trademark under Phil Housley: short in duration, but high in intensity.
Housley said Sunday that when the Sabres have had strong performance in games, as they did against San Jose on Saturday, they've often been preceded by strong practices. The team is looking to replicate that effect as they prepare for a two-game road trip that begins in Arizona on Thursday.
"We had a really good practice," Housley said. "I thought our leadership group led the way and led by example today.
"We know that if we're going to turn this thing around then we're going to have to compete in practice. I thought we did that today. Moving forward here that's going to have to be on a consistent basis."
Video: Sabres Now (10/31/17)
When it comes to the area the Sabres are most looking to improve, Housley compared his team to Buffalo's other major sports franchise. The Buffalo Bills improved to 5-2 with a victory over the Oakland Raiders Sunday, a game that saw their defense improve their league-leading takeaway total to 17.
Housley said he's been happy with the offensive chances that the Sabres have generated. Their play without the puck is what will turn strong performances into wins.
"What is the one thing that they've talked about the Buffalo Bills?" Housley said. "It's their defense, right? That's what's changing things for them, it's creating turnovers and that's the point I'm getting at.
"We have to take pride in that area. The games that we lose, the other team has more zone time … We have to take pride when we don't have the puck. The harder we work in that area, it'll just seem like we have the puck more."
Video: After Practice: HOUSLEY
Housley thought the Sabres did "everything but win" against the Sharks on Saturday. The two teams seemed evenly-matched until the Sharks finally found a way to win late in the third period, with Logan Couture capitalizing on a mistake by the Sabres in their own zone with a top-shelf goal.
Coincidentally, it's in this area that another comparison could be drawn to the team in Orchard Park. The Bills have simply found ways to win tight games as of late, be it Tre'Davious White's fumble recovery against Tampa Bay or LaSean McCoy's clock-eating drive against the Raiders.
Jason Pominville said he's talked to teammates about his time with the Minnesota Wild last season, when the team won a franchise-best 12 games in a row, and described it in a similar light.
"It's not because we were playing well, but we found ways to win no matter what," Pominville said. "Some nights we weren't at our best, we would get a bounce and find a way to win. Right now, when things aren't going our way, it seems to go the opposite. A breakdown happens and they end up scoring."
Pominville said that the confidence the Wild had during that streak stemmed from the team's practice habits.
"Everyone who's been on good teams will tell you that usually practice habits translate to games," he said. "We had good habits. We were finding ways to win, no matter what. It's weird the way it happens. You're down, you find a way to get back. You get a bounce or your goalie makes a save. A lot of thing happen that you find ways to win games.
"But if you had asked our coaches after the streak, they even told us that there were some games that we should've lost and we found ways to win."
The Sabres will become the team that finds ways to win, Housley said, by relying on their system. When they've lost tight games, it's been because they deviated from the simple game that's made them successful. One of the lessons Housley is trying to instill in the team is a belief that, when things aren't going their way, simply sticking to their game we'll bring them out of it.
"All I can judge is what I see right now," Housley said. "And I see a team that, at key times in the game, we sort of break. We have to have a mental toughness in that area where, we can't crack. That's part of the culture too, building that reassurance. Just continue to play the way we're playing. We don't have to do anything out of the ordinary and just continue to pay our game."
In other words, it's all part of the process.
Falk to travel to Arizona
Justin Falk appeared to be back among Buffalo's top six defensemen on Tuesday, practicing on a pair with Victor Antipin. Falk has not played during the regular season due to an injury he sustained late in training camp.
Housley said Falk will be an option to play in Arizona on Thursday.
"Falk is definitely an option," Housley said. "It's good to see him out there in practice today. He brings a physical element to our team we may be missing out there, but it's good stability for us."
Lines at practice
9 Evander Kane - 15 Jack Eichel - 29 Jason Pominville
67 Benoit Pouliot - 90 Ryan O'Reilly - 21 Kyle Okposo
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 23 Sam Reinhart - 95 Justin Bailey
26 Matt Moulson - 22 Johan Larsson - 17 Jordan Nolan (25 Seth Griffith)
6 Marco Scandella - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
19 Jake McCabe - 5 Matt Tennyson
41 Justin Falk - 93 Victor Antipin (27 Taylor Fedun)
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson