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DUNLEAVY: Sabres building that essential confidence

by Dan Dunleavy @dan_dunleavy /

A couple of thoughts to start the month of February.

Scintillating saves, along with heroic dashes in overtime are moments a team hopes to build on and help propel them toward their goal of reaching the playoffs. While these moments provide a quick breath of excitement, that feeling is too short lived if growth off those moments is not realized quickly. 

While RJ was calling the games in Montreal, Nashville and Dallas, I had the chance to chat with WIVB sports anchor Tom Martin and writer Joe Yerdon as a guest on their "The Audcast Podcast." Throughout the course of our great conversation, I noted that I felt this was a team that would be - needed to be - active come Trade Deadline time. 

It seems clear to me this edition of the Sabres, for the most part, is a team that figures it is never out of any game, even if they fall behind by a pair of goals. On the other hand, while the comebacks and OT winners are thrilling, I am still waiting for this group of players to find the right mix in their game to start winning games 4-1 and winning games where the opponent never really seems in within reach of causing any worry. 

I flashback to the win at home against Philadelphia on Jan. 10 when Buffalo scored three unanswered in the second period to open up a 3-0 lead.

Video: Three-goal 2nd lifts Sabres past Flyers, 4-1

The Flyers got one back on the power play late in the third only to see Marcus Foligno put the game away with an empty net goal not long after. (A goal that, by the way, gave Sam Reinhart a three-point night with one goal and two assists). 

Witness below the thoughts of how the team played that night from Ryan O'Reilly…

"That was a much more consistent effort. I thought we started a little bit more. We were creating right away," he said. "We were just competing right away, and that's what we've got to do a little bit more often. It was nice. 

"We weren't as focused on kind of the Xs and Os and kind of what they were going to do. We just kind of said, 'You know what? Let's go out and play hockey.' That's kind of what we did right away." 


Making the push

This, for me, is it in a Sabre Nutshell. This team does not make the playoffs without consistently playing with confidence and smarts at both ends of the rink. It's far from rocket science, but it does take as much commitment as it does to figure out those darn rockets. 

I look at this roster and I can see clearly what each player can do well - do what comes naturally to them when they lace up a pair of skates. 

I think we can also all see the areas in which this team needs to improve. Coaches see it, and you can be certain they preach it. What is left after all the talk and the teaching is for the players to commit to making those improvements in their own game for the good of the team's success, not necessarily just their own glory.

In talking with one Sabres forward after practice as they prepared to take on the Rangers at KeyBank Center, the word confidence was brought up, and not by me. It may be the hardest group emotion to grab hold of in sports. 

Having been around winning teams in the past, I can tell you there is an air around a winning group that is fun to be around and easy to see. It all starts with attention to detail, combined with an atmosphere where the players are allowed to bring their best and own personalities to the mix. 

It's not always an easy blend to achieve as you are well aware based on recent seasons here in Buffalo. 

When I look at this group, I see potential when every single player brings their so called A-game to the ice. The Sabres have speed so no team should terribly outskate them - not in the offensive or defensive zone. Those players who are not the fleetest of foot have enough game experience that they should know where to be, or where to be looking, without having the puck.
This team has players who can really shoot the puck. But as many times as we do see those shots taken, we see more often the shots are passed up in an effort to try and make a play. But there is zero time left to be cute if you are a Sabres player. You need to be able to react quickly. See a hit, make the hit, don't have the puck, look to what's going on around you, have a shot, take the shot! 


Rayzor, Marty and Me

With RJ taking the month off, it will be my pleasure to call all the games until his return to his chair on March 2. I will be working along with not only two great Sabres alumni in Rob Ray and Brad May, but Martin Biron joins our home shows for a number of games starting on Saturday against Ottawa. 

RJ worked brilliantly with Rob and Martin already once this season and I look forward to having him join our show. Rob is looking forward to it because he won't have to say as much with Marty around!


Have your cake and eat it too...

Right before my break from the booth ended in late January, I had a chance along with my fiancé Brenda to sit at the Sabres table at the recent Erie County SPCA Gala which celebrated the organization's 150th anniversary here in Buffalo. 

Brenda and I decided to get involved in the auction held that night. The auction proceeds went towards the very shelter that brought our rescue dog Bandit into our lives just under a year ago at a Sabres event. Little did we know we would be bidding on a cake of all things! The specially decorated 150th anniversary cake hit the bidding block and off we went. 

Once the bidding surpassed the $500 mark I thought we were done. But Brenda grabbed hold of my bidding card and said, "We are not done mister. Those animals need us." 

The bidding ended with Brenda's final bid of $675, all of it going to the SPCA. It's the most expensive cake we have ever eaten, let me tell you. And yes, the baked good was shared with the entire table and a couple others in attendance including The SPCA's Gina Browning, who is one very special and caring woman in our community. 

It's for Gina and others like her in this community that I hope the Sabres find that confidence they seek and give this city the gift of a playoff series.

Until we meet again, see you at the rink!

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