CALGARY - Coming into the season, the Sabres used honest conversation as a means toward rebounding from a last-place finish. They diagnosed what needed to change, opened the floor for players to speak and focused on learning to ride the waves of an 82-game season.
They had that experience to lean on when they came to work at Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday, where they broke down what went wrong in a 7-2 loss in Edmonton the night prior.
"I think it's just more of being honest with each other," Sabres coach Phil Housley said. "Obviously, we didn't like the way we played. To move forward, sometimes you've got to take a step back and look at what's going on.
"A lot of it is just the odd-man rushes and puck management, just having a greater respect that when we don't have the puck, something bad could happen. Obviously, we didn't have enough respect yesterday, and it cost us."
Video: SABRES NOW
One area of growth that players have stressed throughout this season is the ability to stay even-keeled through the peaks and valleys of a season. They practiced it during their 10-game winning streak in November, and they're seeing the inverse of that now.
Yet, as alternate captain Zach Bogosian explained after practice, there's a difference between hanging your head and channeling emotion the right way after a lopsided loss. The defenseman said he expects an emotional response when the Sabres visit the Calgary Flames on Thursday.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's a pretty easy bounce-back game for us tomorrow night," he said. "We've got to play better. We've got to compete harder, we've got to do everything better. I think we've got to worry about ourselves before we worry about the Calgary Flames."
Checking detail was the area of emphasis during an up-tempo practice on Wednesday. The Sabres paid for a slew of turnovers against the Oilers, but their uncharacteristic lack of coverage in those situations had as much to do with the season-high seven goals they allowed.
"I think it's a five-man group," Bogosian said. "I wouldn't just throw it all on the defense. I think as a five-man checking unit, I think we needed to do a better job. We have to do a better job of reading pinches, forwards have to do a better job of reloading back and helping us. I think as a group, as a team, we need to play better. That's what it comes down to."
Playing better might also mean a restoration of confidence. The Sabres seemed undeterred by deficits early in the season, regardless of the size. Carter Hutton said it's up to him and the fellow veterans who comprise the team's leadership group to get them back to that point.
"We've got to just stick together in here," Hutton said. "Nobody's coming to save us. We've got to battle through it. It's going to be hard, but we've got to get back to that attitude that when we were down, it didn't matter. We've just got to keep competing.
"I think right now we're lacking a little bit of confidence, when we get down a goal or two you can see it kind of deflates us where before we had that workman mentality. No matter what was happening, we just kept coming. We have some younger guys, but at the same time I think it starts with our leaders. Our leaders have got to lead these guys."
Dahlin's best game?
For all that went wrong in Edmonton, one bright spot for the Sabres was the confident, dynamic play of defenseman Rasmus Dahlin. Housley and Bogosian agreed that it was the rookie's best NHL game to date.
"Last night was the best game that I've seen him play," Bogosian said. "A lot of people will probably argue that because we didn't win, but last night was the best game I've ever seen Ras play. Super confident, playing well and it's great to see.
"He's so confident with the puck. He has such a way of making plays out of nothing, and it's impressive to see, especially as an 18 year old."
Dahlin finished the night with an assist and six shots on 12 attempts, but even that impressive line doesn't tell the full story. He put his creativity on full display with his between-the-legs pass that set up Casey Mittelstadt's goal a minute into the contest:
Video: BUF@EDM: Mittelstadt tips in the opening goal
He packaged his vision, confidence and skill into end-to-end passes, whether he was hitting Tage Thompson in mid-air with a pass from behind his own goal line …
… or finding a seam to hit Conor Sheary in stride:
When he wasn't pinching down the boards to create shot opportunities for himself, he was finding passing lanes to create grade-A chances for others:
"I think he's just on another level," Bogosian said. "He sees the game differently. There's certain guys when you look around the room, not everyone looks and thinks the game like Jack. Not everyone looks and thinks the game like Rasmus.
"There's certain guys that have that special gift. There's plenty of guys in this room that are great players, really good team guys, but it's obvious every night that there's something different about Ras. It's easy to point out. He's a super special player. He does things out there that not a lot of people would either see or try. He can do both."
Lawrence Pilut was back on a defense pair with Rasmus Ristolainen after sitting out the game in Edmonton as a healthy scratch, while Nathan Beaulieu skated on a fourth pair with Matt Hunwick.
The lineup otherwise remained the same:
53 Jeff Skinner - 9 Jack Eichel - 23 Sam Reinhart
43 Conor Sheary - 37 Casey Mittelstadt - 72 Tage Thompson
17 Vladimir Sobotka - 71 Evan Rodrigues - 29 Jason Pominville
28 Zemgus Girgensons - 22 Johan Larsson - 21 Kyle Okposo
26 Rasmus Dahlin - 4 Zach Bogosian
24 Lawrence Pilut - 55 Rasmus Ristolainen
6 Marco Scandella - 19 Jake McCabe
48 Matt Hunwick - 82 Nathan Beaulieu
40 Carter Hutton
35 Linus Ullmark