RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA – The Buffalo Sabres will open up the second half of the season Thursday night at PNC Arena against the Carolina Hurricanes. They’re looking to get back on the right foot and end their current 1-8-1 skid.
They practiced Wednesday afternoon at PNC Arena fresh off their 4-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils the night before. Buffalo surrendered three goals in the first period and the Devils were able to cruise from there.
“Every night we have lapses, mental mistakes, not enough effort, not enough of that passion, that drive to compete and a little bit of desperation,” alternate captain Josh Gorges said. “The position we’re in and the games we’ve played as of late, we should have the mentality of, ‘We’ve got to give everything every shift.’
“You’ve got to be a little bit pissed off, a little bit embarrassed. And to come out and have half the guys doing that and half the guys not – and we’re hesitant and we’re nonchalant – whether it’s the start of the game, the second period, the end of the game, we can’t have it.”
Sabres coach Ted Nolan stopped a few drills during practice, huddled the players up and got them refocused on the task at hand.
“I’m a strong believer in the way you practice is the way you compete and the way you play,” he said. “For a little bit of the practice, we were just going through the drills like normal. We didn’t have any urgency to our game so that’s what we need at this point of the season right now. We need some urgency.”
After the loss to the Devils, Nolan commented on how the team needs to come in with the right mindset and to be mentally prepared for games. While Gorges believes that’s part of it and having a good practice can help, some of the troubles the team is having run a bit deeper.
“How many times can you reset before you say, ‘Enough’s enough?’” he said. “It is Xs and Os but it’s this guy knowing what his job is and doing that job.
“We can come out and correct a few of the breakdowns from the game here in practice and have an upbeat practice and snapping pucks around and that’s great; you need that. But when it comes to game-time, you need to know your positions, you need to know where you’re going.
“But more than that, you need to know the guy lined up across from you is not going to beat you. Your matchup, he’s not going to beat you. You get on the penalty kill, they’re not going to score. You get on the power play, we’re gonna score.
“It’s getting in the mindset of how do you see this game? Not from an Xs and Os standpoint, but from a ‘Don’t let yourself lose’ [mentality].”
BOTH ENDS OF THE SPECTRUM
Before this current losing streak – the Sabres have now lost five in a row – the team had won 10 of 13. That string of wins helped the team recover from their 2-8-1 record in the month of October.
That the team had shown they’re capable of winning games against quality teams in the past has worked to rise Gorges’ frustration level in particular.
“That’s maybe even more disappointing than at the start of the year because we’ve shown that when we want to do the right things, when we want to play together, when we want to compete hard, we can play,” he said. “And we’re not going to win every game, but we can compete.
“We’ve beat some of the top teams in the East and we’ve beat L.A. and some good teams out West. The potential is there. So when you don’t have it and we don’t play the way we’re supposed to, that’s frustrating.”
While the team has given up a lot of goals lately, they’re also struggling to find the back of the net. Buffalo has been outscored 45-17 over the past 10 games and hasn’t gotten much production from their top line.
Since Matt Moulson returned from having the flu five games ago, he has just two points (0+2), center Zemgus Girgensons has two goals and right wing Tyler Ennis has only one goal.
They’re also a combined minus-16 in those five games. Buffalo has been battling some injuries to players like Brian Gionta, Marcus Foligno and Torrey Mitchell that they rely on not only for scoring depth, but to help alleviate some matchup problems from the opposition.Three callups from the American Hockey League – Phil Varone, Mikhail Grigorenko and Tim Schaller – are currently playing center ice for the Sabres.
The other lines have seen lots of personnel change lately and Nolan knows that the collective effort of the group is just as important as how any individual line may be playing.
“That’s what happens when you’re down a little bit. You put too much bend on one line. But the one thing they never did, they never broke,” Nolan said. “They just need to get a little bit of rest and do what they do best.”
Nolan had a long chat with Ennis along the boards after practice. He shed some light as to what those discussions entailed.
“[We talked about] not to try to grab this team and put it on your back and try to get those goals all the time. There’s a lot of pressure when you have one line going and we just need everybody else contributing and never expect one set of defense, one goaltender and one line – or one particular guy – to do it for us,” Nolan said.
“We have to do it together, so that was my message to him. To keep playing the way he’s playing – he’s playing great for us – and sometimes, because of his character, he wants to do more. Sometimes when you do more, you do less, but he’s doing fine, what he’s doing.”
STAFFORD TO RETURN
The team will likely have forward Drew Stafford back for the game against the Hurricanes. He flew back to Buffalo as his wife delivered their first baby.
Buffalo also plays Friday night in Tampa Bay and Nolan said they’ll likely divvy up the goaltending duties between Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth.
26 Matt Moulson – 28 Zemgus Girgensons – 63 Tyler Ennis
65 Brian Flynn – 84 Phil Varone – 80 Chris Stewart
19 Cody Hodgson – 25 Mikhail Grigorenko – 44 Nicolas Deslauriers
8 Cody McCormick – 59 Tim Schaller – 36 Patrick Kaleta
4 Josh Gorges – 57 Tyler Myers
51 Nikita Zadorov – 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Mike Weber – 24 Tyson Strachan
61 Andre Benoit – 41 Andrej Meszaros
1 Jhonas Enroth
34 Michal Neuvirth