October 14, 2019
Howard and Jeremy (9 a.m.)
Howard Simon: Ralph, it’s Howard and Jeremy. Good morning, welcome to the show.
Ralph Krueger: Yes, good morning. Happy Columbus Day to Buffalo and to your listeners.
HS: So listen, I saw you guys had a day off on Saturday. I saw a little clip yesterday, apparently you said you spent the day shopping and going to a movie. What movie did we see on Saturday on our day off?
RK: I went to go see Judy with Reese Witherspoon. Quite amazing, the acting performance and also the storyline on really the tragedy around Judy Garland’s life. My wife and I enjoyed it. It should be an Academy Award.
Jeremy White: Did you get popcorn?
RK: [laughs] We didn’t originally and then sitting watching the pre-show, my wife goes, ‘Ah, come on.’ So we had some popcorn, yeah.
HS: So, your hockey team has at least a point in each of its first five games. In general, at this point, how do you think they’re playing right now?
RK: The character has been outstanding. It’s a big ask what we’ve been through in training camp on the tactical side and the principles and values that we’re driving for as a team are definitely based on you needing to work hard and to work for your teammates and we’re seeing a lot of that. We’re pleased, but we’re keeping the picture small. We had a goal this year to try and improve every single day and I take it one day at a time and this is what we continue to do, but from a coaching perspective we’re extremely pleased with the way the group is attempting to perform. We still have a lot of growth in us, which is also very exciting.
HS: When it comes to learning every day, Ralph, you probably have a list of things you’d like the team to get better at, a number of different things. How do go about, do you have a point of emphasis or two this week at one practice and then a different one another, how do you go about going down a checklist of a multitude of items to get better at and not throw too much at them at one time?
RK: Well, usually more on the non-gamedays, so yesterday would have been a day of learning and teaching. Maybe the last one before that was six days before where we really looked deep at some things that we’re doing. Gamedays we like to leave the minds free, concentrate on what we need to do, introduce the opposition in different aspects, but it’s more on the non-gamedays. As an example, on a trip like this to California where we are going to be packing bags and moving around in three games in four days, we’ll keep it simple and trust their instincts as they grow and develop. It’s very important to manage the energy in the National Hockey League season with the pace that we’re on and we’re trying to do our best with that as coaches.
HS: Last couple games your team has not been able to hold onto two-goal leads in the third period. Do you feel that the team was sitting back too much? Do you think there is a certain, I don’t want to say lack of killer instinct, but do you think they needed to attack more with the lead in the third period?
RK: No, not at all. We’re definitely continuing to play on our toes. There’s no mandate to sit back ever. In this league, there is no lead that’s safe. The strength of the opposition’s forwards and the way the D are involved, you’re seeing this on a nightly basis in the NHL, which makes it quite exciting. Now, we definitely aren’t happy with giving up two-goal leads and we’re going to get better with that and manage it in a more responsible way. Of course we were pleased the team dug out the two points in the end, but not pleased with giving up leads. But the mandate to stay on our toes and play forward and to attack is definitely there and the players did try to do that. We had chances in both of those games to extend the lead where we missed, we came up against some very good goaltending, as others are doing with us. That’s the nature of the beast right now. Everybody’s really playing a very attractive style, it’s an open league, lots of goals being scored, I think it’s what the fans want, and if we can end up on the two-point side of that more often as we have, we have to remain humble and happy.
JW: It seems like you’re kind of leaning toward experience and older players later in games in those two spots. Whether it’s Victor Olofsson off of a line late in the third periods or Rasmus Dahlin on Friday was a big story after the game, lot of people asking, wondering about Dahlin being on the bench for eight minutes-plus in that third period.
RK: There’s absolutely nothing against those players in those situations. It’s a compliment to other players we have and to the depth of the team. We’ve got different roles within our lineup, players that are going to carry the penalty kill or going to work in closing games out for us. If we need goals, others will carry the ball and that’s what a team is made of is different strengths and different roles and different characters. The focus on what isn’t often leaves out the conversation of what is. And what is we have a very strong, we have a lot of depth in our lineup and we have a lot of players that are specialized in different skill sets. As much as goal-scoring is a skill set, killing penalties, blocking shots, finishing hits — those are important skill sets in a good team and I think it’s also an education of our fan base and of the public to understand that that will change the ice time depending on the score. Rasmus is learning and growing every day. He is very coachable player, we love what he’s doing on and off the ice. There’s nothing but excitement about his future here.
JW: Ralph, it would be interesting to hear your feeling, as you mentioned, shot blocking, shot blocking is one thing in that the last however many years in the NHL, people kind of given a thumbs up and also a thumbs down. If you’re blocking shots, it’s good to block a shot, but if you’re blocking a lot of shots it means you’re on the ice when the other team has the puck and is shooting it. With regard to that, the give and take of what that actually means, the ability to block a shot is important, but late in a game, would you not want your defense to not be blocking so many because you’d be carrying play in the other end?
RK: Well there’s no question that once the goalie’s out of the other team, you’re killing a penalty, because you’re playing 5-on-6 as an example. There it’s really important to be able to understand the patience that’s needed. For instance, in the last game, we just tried too hard. The guys battled like crazy and it was a little bit chaotic and there was a couple of broken plays and broken sticks and so on. But you need to stay in the lanes whenever you are killing penalties or you’re shorthanded. It’s really important to have that courage and especially up high, getting into the lanes. Everything coming from up high, nowadays it has a danger to it, it creates second chances in front of the net, it creates chaos that we’re trying to avoid in our end. You know, I think all through the league that’s definitely a skill set. We do attack more in our end than some teams sag right down back and rely completely on the shot blocking, where as we do expand and attack when we can. It depends on the situation, really.
JW: I’ve noticed much of the attacking on the kill this year as compared to previous years for the Sabres. With regard to Rasmus Dahlin, last year, his rookie year, he impresses a lot of people, this year — year two — maybe, myself included, we kind of expected him to just take off. When it comes to player development with him, are you very much keenly aware of the idea that he’s so young, that you’re still building a lot of what it is that he’s going to become?
RK: Look at Rasmus Dahlin at 19 and Henri Jokiharju at 20, the potential within both of those is so exciting. With Rasmus, players of that skill set are playing with the puck all the time when they’re young. They’re so strong and so powerful, it’s learning the complete game is what’s happened to every great defenseman in the National Hockey League as they mature. Again, I can only say that we are so thrilled with the foundation of what he is and who he is as a person and it takes time. It’s easier to come into the league as a high-end offensively skilled forward because the responsibility without the puck isn’t as large as it is when you play defense, especially in a league that plays with six defensemen all the time. You know, very rarely, Tampa plays with seven once in a while. Defensemen need to be all encompassing, they need to play with the puck, without the puck. It’s, again, something that we just need to be patient before a player with that skill set is complete. It just takes time and everything is on the right track for sure.
HS: With Rasmus and I guess with Jokiharju as well, Ralph, when you have that type of young player with those offensive skills, what is the message you give them? How do you balance the line between I want you to be creative, I want you to be aggressive, but you don’t necessarily want to go 1-on-3 in the neutral zone, turn the puck over, you want to be smart too — how do you get that message across to those young guys? You don’t want to stifle their creativity, but you know, they have to be smart too.
RK: Those are just team rules. That doesn’t apply to one player, that applies to our most experienced player or our youngest player. We just have a lot of team concepts and principles that we’re trying to turn into habits. It’s going to take time. We’re working hard at it, and the players are really, really all-in here. We’re having pleasure working with the group and whether it’s Rasmus or whether it’s Sobotka, it doesn’t matter. Everybody’s trying to get in line with what gives us a chance to be the best team we can be on a daily basis and what gives us a chance to win every night and being responsible with the puck is definitely one of the — the puck management is one of the most important things in a league where every team has so many lethal players. You need to understand where the risks are worth taking and where not.
HS: One last thing I want to ask you, Ralph, about Casey Mittelstadt, got a nice shootout goal the other day. What are you seeing from him so far? Again, I know it’s really early, but you’ve talked about the stress on centers in your system with your principles. He’s still going through that growth process in the NHL, what’s your evaluation that you’re seeing so far from Casey?
RK: Well, Casey is also a player who’s evolving his game. We have a fundamental skill set in him that’s unique and it’s really exciting. He’s got so much potential and, again, an excellent character, very hardworking and just developing everyday. Every day there’s something new and something good going on with Casey Mittelstadt and the coaches are all doing their bit to help him to develop and to help him grow. He’s somebody we can be really excited about. You know, the way he hadn’t played for a while in the last game and stepped into the overtime and created more chances, actually, than anybody else and then quite coolly sunk the third penalty shot goal for the win is just a sign of the top-end of Casey and just like a player that we just spoken about, like Rasmus, there’s a game away from the puck, there’s a pressure coming from the top lines of the other team that pushes you back into your own end that you have to learn to deal with and have to learn to manage and it’s that side of the puck that’s why we have coaches, why we have jobs, I guess, the skill on the offense is more difficult to teach than the game away from the puck. We’re so pleased that he has that foundation and what makes the exciting future he has.
HS: Well thanks again for the time, Ralph, appreciate you coming on a little bit earlier this week with the trip coming up. Good luck against the Dallas Stars, good luck out west and we’ll talk to you next week.
RK: Thanks, and I wish everyone a wonderful Columbus Day.