Coming off a shootout loss on the road Friday night to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Buffalo Sabres were back on the ice Saturday afternoon at Riverside Ice Arena.
The Sabres are 4-0-1 in their past five home games and will look to keep that going when they host the Washington Capitals at 5 p.m. on Sunday at First Niagara Center.
Now that he has the players committed to not letting up in their effort during games, Sabres interim coach Ted Nolan seems to have turned his attention a bit more toward Buffalo plays a more structured game.
“I think we all play within the confines of our ability and the confines of our system which we have to play. If we don’t do it, we’re going to be in trouble,” he said.
The Sabres found themselves in some trouble in the second period against Toronto. The Maple Leafs scored three goals in the period and none of the players after the game were happy with the way that 20 minutes played out.
“That was evident last night. We got away from it totally in the second period and Toronto took it to us pretty good,” Nolan said on Saturday. “We have to play with some kind of structure.”
Captain Steve Ott did not practice. He was given the day off by the coaching staff for maintenance.
The Maple Leafs tried to create some matchup problems against the Sabres by throwing top scorers like Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri against Buffalo’s third and fourth lines. That some Sabres players were still feeling the effects of the flu that caused four of them to miss the game on Monday certainly played a role in Toronto’s strategy.
While the Sabres will have the last change against Washington, it’s likely that the Capitals will try and prey on some of the players trying to regain their strength.
Matt Ellis was one of the players faced with a few tough matchups against Toronto.
“When our line does get matched up against a line like Kessel and Kadri, there are certain things we need to do: get the puck out of our zone as quick as possible, get the puck in and limit the turnovers,” he said. “It’s all about having that awareness and knowing what to do in certain situations.”
Nolan stressed the importance of receiving an honest effort from every player on the team so that, when situations like that arise, anyone on the bench can be counted on to play a role on the ice.
“We have what we have. If you try to shorten our bench down to six or seven players, it’s going to be a long game, it’s going to be a long year,” he said. “That’s exactly what I told the guys today. In order for us to have any kind of success, we need everybody.”
Nolan also said he thought the players who had the flu, including Ville Leino, Marcus Foligno, Linus Omark and Alexander Sulzer, skated well in practice.
The Sabres defense will also be presented with a big challenge in containing Alexander Ovechkin. The Capitals captain has 30 goals and 11 assists in 36 games this year.
“He’s obviously a big threat with not only his shot, but how many shots he takes in a game,” Tyler Myers said. “It’s the same with any player, really. You want to limit his time and space and try to force him make a play he doesn’t want to make.”
Myers’ partner, Henrik Tallinder, is aware of the problems Ovechkin poses, but is confident that the Sabres can find a way to neutralize him and the Capitals offensive attack.
“That guy, he never sleeps. It seems like he’s awake all the time on the ice,” he said. “It’s tough but we’ve done it before. Let’s do it again.”
Buffalo’s defense was active in the Toronto zone and it’s likely that will continue against Washington.
Ott’s game-tying goal with 24.1 seconds left against the Maple Leafs came as a result of Myers holding onto the puck at the blue line and waiting for the right moment to put the puck on net.
“I’m starting to figure out all this game is about is confidence,” Myers said. “I’ve been feeling really comfortable with my game and where I’ve taken it. It’s just a matter of making sure I keep working towards improving every day.”