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Johansson, McCabe named Sabres alternate captains to start 2019-20 season

Krueger: 'Everybody has been showing signs and moments of leadership'

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Marcus Johansson spent September adjusting to a new city, a new coach, and new linemates. He even had to adapt to playing center, a position he had not played regularly since early in his career. 

As he packed his bag for his first regular-season road trip with the Sabres, Johansson - who was named an alternate captain along with Jake McCabe on Wednesday - said he feels like the month of preparation has paid off. 

"Yeah, absolutely," Johansson said. "It feels like we're - just looking at practice - it feels like guys are ready. I mean, there's high intensity, guys look hungry. This is when the fun starts. Yeah, we're ready. This is what we worked for all summer. It's finally here."

That sentiment was echoed by Ralph Krueger, who will coach his first regular-season game with the Sabres when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night. 

Krueger rejected the idea that he'll be nervous for his return to an NHL bench. Rather, he's confident in the way his players have bought into the principles that he hopes will define Sabres hockey under his leadership. 

Video: Ralph Krueger After Practice

"Just an excitement that we're finally launching games that really matter," Krueger said. "I think that the process has given us a lot of confidence for that. You'd be nervous if you thought the team wasn't prepared or uncertain about how they need to play. 

"We feel that the process has gone as smoothly as possible, so I have to tell you, honestly, I'm going quite confidently onto that bench and just excited to get it going. But not nervous in a negative way at all." 

Krueger felt confident that players would respond to his message based on off-season interactions. His experience in training camp confirmed that belief. He has praised the team throughout the preseason for their willingness to conform to the style the coaching staff has tried to instill, particularly in the defensive zone. 

Players saw proof that those principles can work in their preseason finale in Pittsburgh last Saturday, when they showcased the balance of aggressiveness and responsibility Krueger has been preaching for the first period of what ended as a 3-2 overtime victory.

"I think it's definitely a positive," forward Conor Sheary said. "I think it doesn't matter who we put in our lineup, that's just the proving the system can work. I mean, it was preseason so it's a little bit different, but I think they keys are there. 

"I think the habits are changing around here and I think that's a good thing."

Video: Sabres top Penguins in shootout

Johansson said the belief in the system can be felt throughout the lineup. He's ready to put it to the test. 

"I think with Ralph as a coach, his enthusiasm, it makes it real easy for everyone to buy in," he said. "So far, we've done that. Now, we've got to go out and do it for 60 minutes tomorrow and we build on it from there."


Krueger details his leadership group

Krueger explained that while Johansson and McCabe will wear letters, the task of leadership will fall on the entire dressing room. 

"We have with Jack Eichel a very strong captain going into his second season," he said. "I feel the maturity and the ability to lead from that position. Our room is filled with people that will be leading and will be helping us lead. We've decided to begin with As on Jake McCabe and Marcus Johansson. 

"We feel that that's a strong group for the ice. But I have to say that whether it's [Kyle] Okposo, [Zach] Bogosian, the veterans, [Carter] Hutton, or a younger player like Sam Reinhart - everybody has been showing signs and moments of leadership here in training camp."

We checked in with Eichel for today's edition of Sabres In :50...

Video: Sabres in 50: Eichel's ready for the new season

Behind the bench

Krueger has rolled four lines for most of the preseason. With more strategy potentially coming into play in Pittsburgh, he detailed his philosophy on in-game management. 

"I believe that every game has its own storyline and its own way of trying to get to a victory," he said. "You need to feel what the opposition is doing, and you need to be flexible, whether it's possibly adjusting your rotations or adjusting even the lines because of what's going on within the game.

"So, I'm a coach who likes to live the game. You've probably seen it even in the preseason that we'll do whatever we think we need to do to give us a chance. That's not going to be set in stone every night. On the road, mixing things up here and there is more what we'll do."

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