When Ted Nolan took over as interim head coach of the Buffalo Sabres in November, one of his first tasks was to get the team playing better defensive hockey.
The coaching staff emphasized improving play in the team’s own zone when the goals weren’t coming and have now shifted their focus to producing offense. Now, the team is scoring goals but the defensive zone play has been slipping.
Nolan compared the problems to the Whac-A-Mole arcade game.
“It’s one of those things you keep popping down and then another one pops up. And then you pop that one down and then another one,” he said after practice Wednesday at First Niagara Center. “That’s why training camps are so important and that’s why you go through all that stuff and you try to get a good foundation.”
The Sabres have increased their offensive production lately. The team has scored three goals in each of the past four games, but is 0-2-2 and has lost each game by a score of 4-3.
WATCH: TED NOLAN PRESS CONFERENCE
“Now we just need to connect them both. We had a good meeting with the team today. We talked about execution,” Nolan said. “We’ve gotta execute a little bit better. We can’t have spurts when we go for the goals and we forget about the defensive zone and vice versa. It’s a combination of executing all facets of our game.”
The players are looking for answers themselves on how to put together a complete game at both ends of the rink.
“That’s what we’re working towards, but right now and the way it’s been, we can’t find a way to play a full 60 minutes, to play a consistent effort on both sides of the puck,” defenseman Mike Weber said. “Right now we just have to find a way internally to figure it out. It’s frustrating right now. Pucks weren’t going in and now pucks are going in, but we can’t keep them out. It’s just a difficult time we’re trying to work through.
Mark Pysyk and Steve Ott did not practice with the team.
Nolan revealed that Pysyk has a nagging injury that caused him to miss practice. That injury also happened to play a role in why he did not play in the team’s game against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.
“He was banged up a little bit last game and that’s one of the reasons why we didn’t play him,” Nolan said.
It’s still possible that Pysyk will be sent down to the American Hockey League to play with the Rochester Americans during the Olympic break. Nolan said he, president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine and general manager Tim Murray are having ongoing discussions about that. They could come to a decision as soon as Wednesday afternoon.
Ott was given a maintenance day and is expected to play Thursday night when the Sabres host the Carolina Hurricanes at 7 p.m.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to snowstorms.
They were scheduled to play the Flyers in Philadelphia on Tuesday, but wintry weather conditions forced the NHL to push the game back to Wednesday night.
It’s the second time this month Carolina has had a game postponed due to the weather.
The last game between the Sabres and Hurricanes was supposed to take place on Jan. 7 but had to be rescheduled because of blizzard-like in Buffalo. That game will now be played on Feb. 25 at 7 p.m.
The Sabres players know they have an opportunity to jump on the Hurricanes once the puck drops in their next match Thursday night.
“We have to take advantage of it now because they’re going to be playing a back-to-back game,” Sabres forward Marcus Foligno said. “Unfortunately for them, they don’t have good luck with snow storms. It’s something where we had Florida on a back-to-back and we needed to take advantage of that and we didn’t. We have to be ready for Carolina.”
26 Matt Moulson – 63 Tyler Ennis – 21 Drew Stafford
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 19 Cody Hodgson – 23 Ville Leino
82 Marcus Foligno – 65 Brian Flynn – 12 Kevin Porter
32 John Scott – 24 Zenon Konopka – 37 Matt Ellis – 17 Linus Omark
Red Non-Contact: 8 Cody McCormick
10 Christian Ehrhoff – 6 Mike Weber
20 Henrik Tallinder – 57 Tyler Myers
44 Brayden McNabb – 4 Jamie McBain
52 Alexander Sulzer
30 Ryan Miller
1 Jhonas Enroth