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Gionta, Gorges discuss reaction to Sunday's loss

Lehner clarifies comments; Bogosian skates with team

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Emotions boiled over following a 4-2 loss for the Buffalo Sabres to Vancouver on Sunday night, when goalie Robin Lehner referred to the team's inability to play within its game plan as "disrespectful" and Kyle Okposo shared much of the same sentiments.

When the team returned to KeyBank Center for a meeting and an optional skate on Monday morning, Lehner reiterated that his comments were aimed at that team as a whole rather than at any individual players.

 "What I said yesterday was to be was to be aimed at us as a group, starting with myself and all the way through the lineup," Lehner said. "We've got to take more responsibility. It's not certain lines, it's not certain people. It's literally all of us on a day-to-day basis."

Neither coach Dan Bylsma nor the team's leadership expressed any discontent with Lehner's comments. Captain Brian Gionta and alternate captain Josh Gorges echoed much of what Lehner had to say, in fact, stating that in order for the Sabres to take the step from .500 hockey team to playoff contender, they need to start by sticking to the plan.

"Grinding" was a word Lehner used in particular both on Sunday and Monday, and he explained his belief that the teams that are perenially good in the NHL begin by grinding out games and letting skill come into play naturally. When the Sabres try to do it the other way around, he said, good teams pick them apart with their structure.

Gionta echoed that sentiment, while also going on to say that "grinding" shouldn't be confused with "boring" or "slow-paced."

"Playing with pace, paying with speed, is just as much about grinding," Gionta said. "It's making the right reads, it's making the right decisions with the puck. Everyone thinks, 'Oh, playing a grinding game is a boring game,' but it's making the right read and getting the pucks behind their D, wearing the team down. 

" … We want to be - like we've talked about - we want to be a fast-paced, in your face type of team," Gionta continued later. "That's getting into that offensive zone, being able to grind teams and tire them out. It may not happen in the first period, but by the end of the second, by the third, that's when you start to take over. 

"Making their D turn and go back for pucks, it's a long night whether they break it out or not. They may break it out clean 20 times, but having to go back and do it 40 times a game, that's what wears teams down and that's the type of team we need to be."

Video: GIONTA: After Practice

The Sabres have accomplished that at times this season. Gorges pointed to their first period in Toronto on Saturday night, a period in which they put pucks deep, kept their shifts short and rolled four lines on their way to earning a 3-0 lead, as a blue print for that style of play.

Where Buffalo has consistently struggled this season has been in the second period, and that was true again on Sunday.

"What happens to us in second periods is we get stuck out there, we don't get out of our own end, we have extended times, we take penalties off that and start taxing other guys," Gionta said. "That's the kind of thing we have to do to other teams. 

" ... We have to take advantage of making the right play, the simple play, at times. Not dumbing down, it's none of that. Make the play that is there."

When it comes to Buffalo's tendency to not take those simple plays, both Bylsma and Gorges suggested that the root of the problem might actually be an aspiration on the part of individuals who want so desperately to help the team that they actually end up trying to do too much on their own.

"You try so hard and you want to be the guy that makes the difference, you want to be the guy that goes out there and gets the job done and helps your team and sometimes it's too much," Gorges said. "It's crazy to think that because a guy wants it so bad and wants to do so much, sometimes it's detrimental. 

" … That's a hard thing to figure out. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes making the simple play and doing the thing that the next guy is going to have to go do his job and the next guy is going to have to go do his job and it just kind of snow balls, we've got to figure that out sometimes that you've got to rely on each other and that's how we're going to be good."

 Video: BYLSMA: After Practice

Jack Eichel was on the ice for three goals against on Sunday, and Bylsma was asked about one play in particular. The play was a turnover by Eichel that came when he attempted to carry the puck out from deep within his own zone just seconds after the Sabres had completed a penalty kill, and it led to a Vancouver goal. Bylsma said the play was an example of the balance the Sabres need to strike - Eichel's ability to make plays with the puck on his stick is a weapon, but only when used at the proper time.

Eichel, for his part, owned the play and explained that he's continuing to work on elements of his game while also being counted on as a top offensive presence.  

"I'm a guy that needs to produce offensively," Eichel said. "I need to play a 200-foot game and make a difference for this team whether it's in our own zone or setting somebody up to score a goal. That's what I'm looked at for. I'm a creative player, I take risks, I'm trying to make plays and that's how I've always been. I think there's definitely areas of my game I need to clean up. I need to be better in my own zone, I need to be more responsible in my timing coming out of our zone. There's obviously areas of my game I need to get better at but it's a work in progress with our whole team and I'm the same way."

Video: EICHEL: After Practice

A large reason for the frustration on Sunday was the opportunity the Sabres had let slip away; a win would have put them just three points back from a playoff spot. Instead, they're five points back, with another game against a divisional opponent looming in Ottawa on Tuesday.

Asked whether there's still time for this group of 23 men to come together and figure it out, there was a sureness in Gorges' response. 

"Oh, I still believe in this group," he said. "I still think this group is a playoff team. We've played against the top teams in the League and we always play well. There's lots of hockey left to be played still. I believe this team has the ability to go out there and get the job done and make a huge push and go out there and get ourselves into that fight. 

It's not going to be easy. Every team we're playing, they're in the same position, they're either in the playoffs fighting to keep it there or they're a couple points out trying to get there. It will be an intense couple months of the season, but this is why we play hockey. This is why we play these games, to be in that moment, to be in that shift where it's do or die."


Medical report

Zach Bogosian was among the handful of Sabres who took part in the optional skate on Monday morning, his first time skating with the team since sustaining an injury to his ribs on Feb. 4. Bylsma did not rule out the possibility of Bogosian traveling with team to Ottawa for their game on Tuesday.

Brian Duff caught up with Bogosian after the skate, which you can watch below in Monday's Sabres in :90.

Video: Sabres in :90 (2/13/17)

Bylsma said that William Carrier, out for the last six games with a bone bruise in his knee, is continuing to rest while Zemgus Girgensons (middle body) remains off the ice and will be revaluated on Wednesday.

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