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'A beautiful victory': Sabres rally around Krueger in Edmonton

Miller nets winner in OT victory

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

EDMONTON - Ralph Krueger looks back fondly on his three seasons in Edmonton. He spoke Sunday morning about the relationships he formed with Oilers players and the lessons that helped him carve his path since, from the Olympics to the English Premier League and now to the Buffalo Sabres' bench.

His current players know the history, too. You can bet it was a motivating factor in their 3-2 overtime win over the Oilers, Krueger's first game in Edmonton since parting ways with the organization in 2013. 

"Sure was," forward Kyle Okposo said. "We talked about it in between periods and this morning and we wanted to get a win for him. We know how much it meant for him. Things didn't end well here for him and he wouldn't say it, but I know that this game meant a lot to him."

Video: Miller nets OT winner to lift Sabres past Oilers

Coming off an overtime loss in Vancouver on Saturday, the Sabres jumped on the Pacific Division leading Oilers early. Okposo and Johan Larsson scored goals in the first 11 minutes and they carried the 2-0 lead into overtime. 

The Oilers responded with a pair of goals from Riley Sheahan and Joakim Nygard in the second, but the Sabres withstood the adversity. Linus Ullmark shut the door for the remainder of a 26-save effort and a patient, possession-based approach in overtime ended with Colin Miller burying the winning goal. 

Krueger was moved not only by the sentiment from his players, but also by the manner with which they won. 

"It's real nice," he said. "I mean, they know the story. They know the history. We've got an honest culture in there and we're just out for each other, so it was a beautiful victory, really, especially because of the character we showed to get it.

"... I thought we really deserved the overtime win at the end. Just real pleased with the guys making that special gesture and something we're definitely going to build on, this game."

Video: POSTGAME: Krueger

Krueger promised an open, direct culture upon being named coach of the Sabres during the summer. That foundation was laid during training camp, and the players have responded positively ever since. 

Okposo listed the characteristics that make Krueger a coach worth fighting for in the eyes of him and his teammates. 

"Well, just his demeanor," Okposo said. "The way he treats everybody. He's honest, he's fair, he's demanding, fun. He's an extremely good motivator. He's a guy that everybody wants to play for. I know talking to the guys that were in Edmonton that had him, I didn't hear one bad thing about him. I know that he's very well liked and he's pushing us to be better. We're appreciative that we have him."

"It was fun to get the two points for him," alternate captain Marcus Johansson added. "I feel like he deserved that. I think he's been really good so far and it was fun to get that one for him."

Lately, it's been translating on the ice, too. With the win, the Sabres will return home having taken three of an available six points on their Western Canada road trip. They have earned points in seven of their last nine games and remain in third place in the Atlantic Division. 

"Overall there is a consistency now and a belief in what our game is," Krueger said. "It's one thing to know that we have a plan, it's one thing to know we have a game, but the other thing is it starts becoming automatic and that the habits come through.

"That's what we're seeing more and more here, is that we're able to recover within a game like today where we let it slip and could have easily fallen apart. But we got back to that plan and religiously carried it through."


Miller nets the winner

Miller has been in and out of the lineup since mid-November, a byproduct of the Sabres' defensive depth. He had dressed in four straight games prior to being scratched in Vancouver on Saturday. 

Krueger has spoken highly of the defenseman through it all, and he was back in the lineup in place of Jake McCabe against Edmonton. Miller's performance in regulation earned him an early shift in overtime, and it paid off with his first goal as a member of the Sabres. 

Video: BUF@EDM: Miller buries game-winner in overtime

"I thought Millsie played a really strong game tonight and that's why we picked him for that second unit in the overtime," Krueger said. "He earned it with his game overall and he was really aggressive in the neutral zone, very confident with the puck tonight and we love his reaction to having not played of late. I think that competition [on defense] just continues."


Shutting down McDavid

The Oilers boast the top two scorers in the league in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Though the duo did manage some chances - they combined for seven shots - the Sabres were ultimately able to keep both players off the score sheet, a feat that's only been accomplished three other times this season.

"The key for us was the second chances on them," Krueger said. "We knew they were going to get some initial chances just with their speed and the way they attack. I thought we were able to really neutralize anything after that and pick them up pretty early through the neutral zone. 

"We were tight through the neutral zone, always five guys working together like a pack there to take away some of that speed. I thought, overall, we did a good job on it."


The Roaring '20s strike again

The line of Zemgus Girgensons, Larsson, and Okposo rekindled its October magic in Vancouver on Saturday, combining for Okposo's goal that put the Sabres on the board in the second period. 

The trio opened the scoring once again in this game, the product of their trademark work ethic in the offensive zone. Following a long battle in the corner, Girgensons used his stick to force a turnover that wound up bouncing off the boards toward Marco Scandella at the point. 

As Scandella wound up for a slap shot, all three forwards converged on the Edmonton net. It was Okposo who got the deflection for his second goal in as many games.

Video: BUF@EDM: Okposo deflects home opening goal

Larsson added to the lead later in the period, though not with his usual linemates. He jumped on the ice as Rasmus Asplund and Jimmy Vesey led a rush through the neutral zone, then crashed the net to bury the rebound of a Vesey deflection. 

Video: BUF@EDM: Larsson cleans up rebound in front


Rodrigues returns

Evan Rodrigues dressed for the first time since sustaining a lower-body injury on Nov. 24, ending a seven-game absence. Casey Mittelstadt was scratched to make room in the lineup.

"For Casey, it was a day to take a breath, take a watch from the outside, and learn from sometimes watching from the outside," Krueger said. "When you're at an age like that, we're just nothing but excited about the way he dealt with today and the time we had with him and the coaching we were able to do with him. 

"It's part of what we're doing is growing these players with different kinds of experiences and today was his turn to take a look."


Up next 

The Sabres open a two-game homestand against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday. Coverage on MSG begins at 7 p.m., or you can listen to the game live on WGR 550. The puck drops at 7:30. 

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