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DUNLEAVY: Thoughts on the first month of the season

by Dan Dunleavy @dan_dunleavy /

The easy way out is to be negative, to say, "Here we go again." The way to a playoff spot in any league is not via any "easy way." The day the Buffalo Sabres clinch an NHL playoff berth again, you will likely hear yourself saying, "Waiting for this day was not easy."

The Sabres have played a lot of hockey to open this season. As of Sunday, the group under watch of head coach Phil Housley had played a league-high 12 games in the month of October. The vaunted trip through California (and now Vegas as well) was part of the busy season start. 

With the upcoming trip to Arizona and Dallas this week, it certainly feels as if we have been on more than a few flights and bus rides already.

Through that busy start the coaching staff, general manager, and the players themselves have been taking stock of who or what they are, and on more than a couple of occasions, admittedly have not liked what they have seen. 

But once the "easy way" of being negative about a lack of results is pushed aside, and you peel back deeper into the process of playing the game the right way, Coach Housley and his players have seen moments where they can take many positives out of a night at the rink, win or lose. What they do with those positives is up to the players themselves as a group, as one tight-knit unit.

Here is the reality of this situation. 

Losing should never, ever be acceptable. 

A culture of losing being a means to an end undoubtedly crept into the minds of some of the teams younger players. They may not admit it, but former Sabre Marcus Foligno sure did during an interview in Minnesota where he is battling back from a facial fracture and trying to find his way to better consistent play as a member of the Wild. 

The taste of losing should be so nasty in the mouths of the core players on this Sabres team that they should be willing to do whatever it takes, every single night, to lead and to avoid that stench at all costs.

Now those are just words. On any given night, you can play a game the right way and not get a bounce or two, a bad call can go against you, and you lose the game. 

But what Housley and his staff are aiming for is a look in the eyes of every player they choose to dress on game day. I am going to guess it's the look I saw in defenceman Marco Scandella's eyes when he skated towards me for a pregame interview from the bench in Boston on Oct. 21.

Buffalo had just lost a tough game at home to Vancouver the night before. I stood on the bench at TD Bank Garden in Boston where the interview would take place and watched as Scandella skate towards me for our pre-arranged two-question chat. Marco's eyes were as wide as Sabretooth's drum. 

The newcomer defenseman skated with purpose to the bench and I asked my first question. 

"After the loss to Vancouver there were a lot of honest words shared amongst teammates who were not happy. All of that said, what's the prevailing mindset among the group today about how you have to start this game in Boston?" I asked. 

You at home never saw the answer to the question or any of that interview on our pregame show because Scandella was so fired up, the language that slipped into his answer was not made for younger fans who may have been watching that evening (although we loved - and you would have loved - the raw emotion in his answer). 

I had a chuckle afterwards, knowing we could not use the interview and also knowing every Sabres fan back home would have said "Right on mister! Bring THAT attitude tonight and to every game!"

But it was at that moment that I knew this team had the people in place, like Scandella, to help the core find its way to making losing never acceptable again in Buffalo. 

And if you recall on that Saturday night in Boston, things were not looking good again for Buffalo. They were down 3-0 and 4-1 in the second. But from that point in the game on, instead of taking the easy way and accepting another "not very good effort or result," the Sabres kept coming. 

Buffalo held Boston off the scoresheet in the third and the rally was on. Three straight goals to send the game to OT, where Ryan O'Reilly ended it with a lovely bit of work out from behind the net.

Video: BUF@BOS: O'Reilly spins and wins it in OT

The easy way out was not accepted on that night. It was not a pretty win, but it was a gutsy come-from-behind win against a team that was ripe for the picking. 

The fire Marco Scandella brought into that pregame interview we could not air was exactly what the Sabres needed to have filter through the team that night. 

It's an energy this team needs to find out how to bring game in and game out, and it does, I really do think that this group is capable of being in the postseason tournament mix at season's end. 

It will not be easy given the start the team is off to. But who said this should ever be easy?

Oh and by the way, Marco apologized many times for his slip during our pregame interview. I told both him and Ryan O'Reilly after the win no worries, and I am pretty sure if that's the secret to success, you can swear on every pre game interview from here to the playoffs!

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