The Buffalo Sabres went back to work Friday after an extremely disappointing loss at home on Thursday.
Sabres coach Ted Nolan skated the team hard for about 40 minutes at First Niagara Center with an emphasis put on dump-ins, positioning, being tougher on the puck and communicating. For much of practice, players skated without the puck.
Buffalo is currently on a nine-game losing streak and they’ll look to snap it Saturday night when the Philadelphia Flyers come to town.
The players have already moved on from their 7-0 loss to Minnesota. For Sabres forward Drew Stafford, the tough practice was welcome because it’s the start of their preparation for the next game and setting the tone for how they want to respond to their latest defeat.
“There’s no use beating it to death, analyzing it anymore, talking about it. I’m ready to move on,” he said. “I know everyone in here is ready to move on and get back to work. It’s almost beating a dead horse at this point, talking about it so I’m sick of it.”
At this point, talking about what they need to do better matters less and less than what they’re actually doing on the ice.
“A lot’s been said. It’s to a point where we’ve talked about it so much. We’ve hashed it out quite a bit where there’s not much more we can say. We’ve got to start doing,” Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers said.
“Our execution is what it comes down to now, whether that’s guys putting in more effort or putting in a little more preparation before a game, whatever it is. We all have to look at ourselves and ask ourselves what we can do to help the team get out of this.”
While the team has battled injuries to key players to the point where they had five call-ups from the American Hockey League for a game a few weeks ago, the players don’t see that as an excuse as to why they’ve now gone 1-12-1 in their past 14 games.
“Physically, we’ve had some injuries. We’ve had some new guys coming in and out. That doesn’t help but at the same time, mentally it’s been really, really challenging, really frustrating,” Stafford said. “There’s enough talk. I’m sick of the meetings, sick of the keywords and all that. Like today, just a simple 35 minutes of skating, hard work, working on the breakouts.
“We have a great opportunity tomorrow to put forth an effort that we can be proud of and show something for our fans. They come out and support us. After a game like last night, I’m surprised that people are still showing up. We owe it to them to put forth an effort that they can be proud of.”
Younger players like 20-year-old Zemgus Girgensons saw the practice as both a punishment and a teaching tool from the coaching staff.
“It definitely makes you think,” he said. “Definitely, pain makes people think more. If I was a coach, I would’ve done the same thing.
“…Lately, we’ve been thinking, ‘There’s another day, another chance.’ But how many times are you going to say that there’s a tomorrow? What you do today, that’s what matters, really.”
Buffalo has been outscored 39-9 during the losing streak. After the skate, Nolan had the team go through a 15-minute video session.
“When things were going well, we were working,” he said. “People are not scoring. You’re not scoring for a reason. You’re not paying the price to score. You’re not getting the puck out along the boards because you’re not paying the price to get it out along the boards. Enough talking. We have to start doing.”
Nolan hopes the messages get through.
“You take the horse to the well and it’s up to him to bend over and drink it. You can’t force someone to do something. You can ask him and ask him,” he said. “Even nowawdays, send ya down to the minors, that’s not gonna happen. It’s been like that for a long time.
“Putting the people out there and hoping you’ve communicated enough with them and shown them enough examples of how it looks when they don’t do it properly and how it does look when you do it properly.”