Jason Botterill watched the Sabres during their West Coast road trip and was pleased with the way his team responded in the face of adversity.
The Sabres took their first regulation loss of the season in Anaheim, then had a second period they were admittedly unhappy with the following night in Los Angeles. They buckled down to win that game, 3-0, then stayed the course through a back-and-forth victory in San Jose two nights later.
Botterill thought back to the challenges he issued to players last spring. Through the summer and into their 7-1-1 start under new coach Ralph Krueger, he's been happy with their response.
"They took it to heart," the Sabres general manager said Tuesday, ahead of the team's rematch with San Jose. "I think what I liked about the western road trip was our response after a loss.
"… Over the course of the next couple of months here, we know we're going to face adversity. It's how we handle it. Right now, we're feeling very good about our game."
The peaks and valleys the Sabres experienced last season are well documented. They rode a 10-game winning streak to the top of the NHL standings in November but struggled to find consistency in the second half of the season, finishing 13th in the Eastern Conference. The young core of the team now has that experience to lean on.
For longer-tenured players like Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and Rasmus Ristolainen, last season was a first taste of how the game changes when you're at the top. For rookies Rasmus Dahlin and Casey Mittelstadt, it was an introduction to the grind of an 82-game schedule.
Botterill and his staff supplemented that experience during the offseason by adding a pair of playoff-tested veterans in Marcus Johansson and Colin Miller. He pointed out specific instances where he's already noticed a difference.
Take the win at home against Florida on Oct. 11, for example. The Panthers tied the game on a 6-on-5 advantage late in regulation, in part due to Johan Larsson's stick breaking in the defensive zone. What stuck out to Botterill was how the Sabres got away from their structure early in that third period, then re-adjusted to shut the Panthers down up until the final minute.
Similar on-the-fly adjustments were made during the victories in Los Angeles and San Jose. The Sabres let two leads slip to start the third period of the latter game, then went on to heavily out-chance the Sharks for the remainder of the contest.
"You look at San Jose, the excitement of grabbing a 3-2 lead, they come back right away to score to make it 3-3 but then there's no panic in our game," Botterill said. "There's a calmness about, 'Hey, this is what we need to do to have success here.'"
Krueger, meanwhile, has influenced the team both through his connected, simplified game plan and his "one day at a time" attitude. Players have embraced the idea of focusing on day-by-day improvement and letting the results live as a byproduct.
Botterill complimented the communication he's seen between the players and their coach thus far.
"It's the start of the season," he said. "Although our record is our record, there are mistakes all over the place out there. The fact we had that dialogue, had that communication to rectify those, I think is good and I think the focus right now continues to be, 'Hey, how are we getting better each day as a team?'
"Over the course of 82 games you're going to have adversity, 100 percent, and I think our young players are certainly more prepared for it because of what they've gone through."
The timetable for Zach Bogosian's return from hip surgery is still indefinite as of Tuesday's official injury report, but Botterill eased any concern that the defenseman could miss the entirety of the season.
"In my mind, there's zero fear from that standpoint," Botterill said. "He's back skating here right now. Very excited for where Zach is. Going over the type of procedure he had, it was a serious procedure, and Zach is a powerful individual, so you want him to come back [at full strength].
"It's difficult for him right now because he wants to be back, especially once you get into games as a player, the energy, you want to get back out there. You want to be part of the group, but it's also imperative for him for not only us this year but his career long-term that we get this right. From our standpoint, the fact he's back skating here right now is a good sign and we're looking forward to it."
Fellow defenseman Brandon Montour remains week-to-week with a hand injury.