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Sabres hope that honesty, accountability will help them turn the page

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Postgame comments following a 5-4 loss to Minnesota for the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night included a call from some veteran players for increased accountability in the dressing room. It's that same brutal honesty, players said Thursday, that the team hopes will lead them out of their current 0-5-2 rut. 

Such was the message during the team's postgame meeting on Wednesday, when the door to the dressing room remained closed well after the final horn had sounded.

"I think we have a better idea of what we need to do," alternate captain Ryan O'Reilly said. "We can think about it as much as we want, but it comes down to that game and the next game doing it. It's something that we're all focused on.

"It was a good reflection meeting. I feel, to a man, everyone knows a little bit more what we need to do and how to change."

Video: Sabres Now (11/23/17)

Count Kyle Okposo among the veterans who feel that more honesty and accountability between teammates is a necessary factor for the Sabres to turn their season around. Jordan Nolan, a two-time Stanley Cup champion in Los Angeles, said mistakes this season have been looked over rather than addressed from player to player.

Growing up in the Kings organization, Nolan said, veterans like Jeff Carter would address him if his shifts were long or mistakes were made. Okposo, too, said that when he came into the league with the New York Islanders he had veterans like Bill Guerin and Doug Weight point out his mistakes.

Okposo was that person for the Sabres late last season, until a concussion ended his campaign in March. 

"It seems like it's just gotten away from that a little bit," Okposo said. "Maybe that's my fault. Last year before I got hurt I tried to get some accountability in the locker room and we need more of it."

The problem for the Sabres, according to players and coach Phil Housley alike, has been their tendency to deviate from their game plan when things don't go their way in a game. Whether it's a bad habit or a sign that the team needs the more mental toughness, the players still believe it can be corrected.

"At the end of the day you can sit here and talk about it but you've got to go out there and you've got to show up and you've got to be ready for that," forward Sam Reinhart said. "I think there's one part of that being physically ready to play, which at times can be easier than being mentally ready. 

"I think we've got to have that mindset that whatever's thrown at you throughout the game to stick with the game plan."

When the Sabres have stuck to their plan this season, they've found ways to win games. Their last victory, over Washington on Nov. 7, was a prime example of the team limiting chances for a talented opponent and finding a way to win at the end.

Lately, though, the Sabres have fallen behind and had to rely on third-period comebacks to even make games close.

"We feel like we have a good enough team to win hockey games," Okposo said. "We do it some of the times, but you know what that is in this league? That's a bad team. That's a team that's not going to win. If you do it some of the time, you're not going to win, no matter what."

The Sabres have their first chance to rebound at home against Edmonton on Friday, the first game in a back-to-back set that concludes Saturday in Montreal. 

"We're all here to win," O'Reilly said. "We have to hold each other accountable and find ways to push each other. What we're doing isn't working, so we've got to change."


Thursday's practice

The Sabres held a team meeting and an optional skate at KeyBank Center on Thursday morning. Injured defensemen Zach Bogosian, Rasmus Ristolainen and Matt Tennyson skated for the second day in a row along with a group that included Evander Kane, Matt Moulson and Kyle Criscuolo, among others.

Housley said Wednesday that Ristolainen was nearing a return to the lineup, but Bogosian, who has been out since training camp, said he expects to need a few full practices before seeing game action.

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