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Krueger talks D-zone philosophy, Ristolainen and more on The Instigators

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber / Sabres.com

Ralph Krueger on The Instigators

Ralph Krueger with The Instigators

Ralph Krueger joins Andrew Peters, Craig Rivet and Martin Biron live on set at KeyBank Center

  • 17:03 •

Ralph Krueger's tour of the Sabres organization continued Thursday, beginning with a conversation over breakfast with Rochester Americans coach Chris Taylor followed by a chat with high performance manager Joe Collins. 

Krueger then took a half hour to sit down with Martin Biron, Andrew Peters and Craig Rivet on The Instigators to discuss an array of topics, from his defensive-zone philosophy to his thoughts on a potential coaching staff and his first impressions of Buffalo. 

You can check out the interview in its entirety above. Here are a few takeaways.

 

The coaching staff

Krueger said during his introductory press conference on Wednesday that while he believes it would be ideal to have a staff in place by the end of June, he will not rush the process at the expense of making the right hires. 

He reiterated that timeline Thursday, but added some context as to what the staff might look like. 

"I'd rather start with a quality staff and possibly add later on as I see [fit]," he said. "As a head coach, I think, at the very beginning you need to be the primary voice and make sure that the culture is set in the first few months and then use your assistants all the time in special situations: [power play], [penalty kill] and so forth."

Krueger said he was pleasantly surprised to see the quantity of applicants, which include some names he hadn't expected to show interest. As for the in-game makeup of his staff, he expects to have no more than three coaches on the bench. 

Video: Jason Botterill on The Instigators

One name you can likely cross off the list is Taylor, as Krueger echoed previous comments from Botterill about the value of the culture he's currently instilling as head coach in the AHL.

"Getting those people right culturally is going to be important," Krueger said. "I met Chris Taylor today. In Rochester, I know it's a checkmark. Culturally, he's an excellent head coach there. He's got everything going in the direction that I like. We just had such a natural conversation this morning."

 

Transparency

Based on Krueger's coaching philosophies, it's no wonder he and Taylor got along. The way Krueger describes his principles in terms of communication sound a lot like the way players have described Taylor in Rochester. In good times or bad, players will know exactly where they stand and why. 

Krueger stressed genuine emotions and productive, solution-based mentalities as expectations of his players. "If we're angry," he said, "let's be angry."

During games, it's his philosophy to allow players room to make errors as long as they're being made with the right intentions. 

"There's room for error," he said. "It's part of the game. I will use the word 'connected' a lot. If you're watching our games and you feel with and without the puck we're moving in a connected way, that's how I like to set up the team. 

"And then within that, if we make mistakes or there's breakdowns, I stay very calm during games. I think that that's something that's going to be part of our process and it's part of the sport." 

 

The defensive zone

Video: Carter Hutton with The Instigators

Krueger detailed his defensive philosophy, which he described as aggressive in all three zones.

"It's, again, creating pressure at the puck and then as you move away from the puck and your role drops from second, third, fourth, fifth player, you will have more of a zone than a man focus," he said. "But at the puck, the aggressiveness is going to be important and what that does is stops those long, cycling shifts now. 

"When we moved the blue lines, it changed the game. You need to, first of all, be much, much more aggressive at the blue line than you used to be so that entries become difficult. You don't want to give simple, soft entries at any point in time. So, it begins all the way up in the offensive zone. … I think that being aggressive before we even get into the D-zone will be the beginning of everything. 

"But in the [defensive] zone itself, it's the aggressiveness at the puck and the support that occurs behind that with less of a man focus as you move away from it. It's not complicated, but it's hard work and you need to be always active and willing to work for your gap away from the puck. The other support guys will be critical."

Krueger said he believed improving defensive structure could help a player like Rasmus Ristolainen, who he referred to as a centerpiece moving forward. Goalie Carter Hutton joined The Instigators later in the show and talked about how improved structure could help his game as well. 

Hutton described last season's defensive-zone play as unpredictable in comparison to his previous campaign on a veteran St. Louis team. As a result, he felt he tried to do too much at times.

"It's great," Hutton said. "I think Ralph is a guy that that's kind of his key point, tightening things up and having a little bit more structure. That's obviously going to be important. … Having that in and being able to bring that structure in is something that I think will help overall, just for our success." 

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