December 18, 2019
Howard and Jeremy (9:30 a.m.)
Howard Simon: Ralph, it’s Howard and Jeremy. Good morning, welcome to the show, sir.
Ralph Krueger: Good morning from our hotel here in Philadelphia.
HS: Oh, that’s right, yeah, I’m thinking you’re not busing back last night, you’re going to Philadelphia. Well thanks for joining us from the city of brotherly love.
HS: So last night, Ralph, you look at the game and dug yourselves kind of a hole last night and couldn’t dig out of it. Is that one of the stories that you thought developed last night in Toronto?
RK: Well we dug ourselves a hole, for sure, and it was disappointing because we were off our game last night from the get go and had trouble finding, you know, the principles that make us the best possible team, so we were frustrated with that. What I liked was the reaction within the room after two periods and the conversations we had and the fight in the third where we actually, with the 6-on-4 with two and a half minutes to go had an opportunity to at least get a point out of that game even though we had two off periods. Yeah, now it’s back to the drawing board and getting the group regrouped for a better game tomorrow. We were disappointed with that loss last night, but let that adversity, again, give us some lessons to take with.
Jeremy White: Ralph, games like that will just kind of happen. I mean, it’s a long season, you’re going to have your ups and downs. What are those conversations like when you’re saying, you recognize you’re off your game and in the room, maybe after the first or after the second, who’s talking? What’s being said? How active is your role in that? How much are the players talking?
RK: Well the pattern in the intermissions is usually pretty similar so the players can take care of their bodies and their minds in the right way. I usually come in at about the 10-minute mark of the intermission and speak to them and then give them a few minutes before we come back on the ice. But they’re also having conversations on their own. We have a good leadership group here; they understand pretty clearly what the expectations are. And the guys are honest, they know when we’re off and they work on that. We as coaches will bring in the inputs we feel are right, you know? As a coach sometimes it’s going to be about hockey and sometimes it’s going to be about life or about motivation and effort, you know? That’s always on an intermission-to-intermission basis. I usually follow my gut after speaking with the coaching staff and sometimes you come in right after the period if there’s need, but generally, you know — last night was one where we were definitely all quite grumpy after two and, you know, came out with a fight in the third.
HS: A strategy question: The pulling the goalie with the power play late, you did it last night, you did it against the Islanders and it worked. Now last night you did it, you know, I think with about 45 seconds left or so on the power play. What’s the thought process, how do you figure out am I going to do this, when am I going to do this?
RK: Well it just depends on how much time’s left in the game. I mean, we would be pulling our goalie irrelevant of a power play or not at about the 2:30 mark now. In the old days, you used to wait until a minute to go, but that’s, you know, it’s just not enough time to get organized anymore the way the pace of the game is. You take that risk if you have control. So on that situation last night we felt extremely comfortable. We ended up with an unfortunate turnover after actually getting set up in the zone. You need to take risks down the stretch when you’re down goals in the NHL today and that man advantage usually has been effective for us. We’ve scored a lot of goals with the goalies out and yesterday we took it on the chin. But I would make that same decision again today looking at the circumstances that we had.
HS: Ralph, when you look at some of the things you’re trying to fix with this team, the [Jack] Eichel line has been great and the scoring after that is spotty. As a coaching staff, what can you do? How can you try and address that? How much of an issue has that been?
RK: Well first of all, the positive is you have a line, like the Eichel line, firing on all cylinders as it is and certainly one of, if not the best line in the National Hockey League right now. But you’re right, 100 percent, guys. We need to get secondary scoring going here. It needs to alleviate some of the 5-on-5 pressure. The opposition are throwing their top D and top forward line at Jack and Sam [Reinhart] and [Victor Olofsson] here on every road game and we need to have more pressure there. And what we do is we’re working with different combinations trying to find ones that’ll fire and ones that’ll go for us. We don’t need another line scoring at that pace, but we definitely need to be a threat. We have been in the games that we’re good, we are getting that secondary scoring. How do you work on it? Well, it’s just continue sticking with our principles in general where we need to get traffic to the net, we need guys in the blue paint to create secondary opportunities. I’m sure our secondary scoring will improve. It’s another area of improvement that we have, which is good. As you guys know, we’re in permanent stage of growth here and that’s one area we’re going to work hard at.
HS: How would you categorize Jeff Skinner’s game at this point? He’s — I think he’s gone seven games now without a goal and he doesn’t have a single goal on the power play.
RK: Yeah, he’s been in and out of playing on the first unit so power-play goals aren’t really a good measurement. He’s getting his opportunities; there’s a lot of shots on net. He’s getting three-to-five shots on multiple games here. He is a streaky scorer, let’s hope in Philly it breaks and he runs a streak here again. But offensively there’s a lot of things going right for him, but we have tried different combinations and as you’ve already mentioned in past phone calls, he had a lot of success last year with playing with Jack together, but we’ve got that line firing now so we need to get another line going, and Jeff will be an important part of that. He’s got to stick with what he’s doing and keep working hard to get the opportunities and I’m sure that’s going to come in bunches for him again.
HS: One of the other guys I want to ask you about… [is] Rasmus Dahlin’s play since he’s come back. What have you seen from him since he came back from the concussion?
RK: Well we feel, actually, that the break did him good in so far as watching some games from the outside and being able to see where his positional play without the puck needs to be and we feel he’s come back very strong. He’s adding to our offense. Our power play is definitely stronger now with Rasmus back into the lineup. With Dahlin, it’s an age where the biggest growth with him is going to happen without the puck and defensively. We can see that he’s seeing his position better all the time. He’s reading the game better all the time and we’re really pleased with him since he came back from the injury.
HS: Especially the game against the Islanders, they tried to play physical against him and it seemed like he handled it and actually had a little bit of an edge to his game. Did you see that? Or do you see that in him at all?
RK: Yeah, he ended up with a combination of, I think it was six and four hits and blocked shots, or four and six. When you start getting those gritty statistics as a skilled offensive player, it shows the kind of game that you’re playing. You’re reading it right there, exactly. His physicality in that game was impressive and it’s something that he seems to feed on that when he has some contact and he has some hits and blocks some shots, his offense seems to be more explosive and dynamic. So I think there’s an exciting combination that we’re seeing there.
HS: In our remaining time left, I also want to ask you about Casey Mittelstadt. He went down to Rochester for you guys. I don’t know if you can share anything, any insight; what was your message to Casey when you can Jason [Botterill] met with him before he left for the Amerks?
RK: Well it’s all about him getting reps at a higher level. So his ice time had been reduced here of late and then [his] being a healthy scratch got everybody thinking about the need for Casey at this point in his development to get repetitions and to be able to quarterback a power play the way he can and to play higher minutes 5-on-5, to work on the habits he needs. Casey, we’re excited about his future as always. There’s many different ways the players develop and sometimes a perceived — from the outside — setback like this is an opportunity for him to grow and learn and again get repetitions with a little bit more time and space. Now in the American League there’s a lot of hard work coming at you and there’s more physicality even, at times, so it will be a test for him. But, again, he’ll, with his skill, have more time and space to work on the game that we need him eventually then to play here and he will certainly improve. And faceoffs is another area where he can work on while he’s down there because we do see him as a centerman long term. With Chris Taylor and his staff down there, he’s getting the right messages and will have more practice time in between the games, too, where he can work on all of this.
HS: Is there a time frame with Casey, Ralph? Do you know?
RK: No time frame.
HS: No, you just kind of play it by ear, see how he does?
RK: You know what, we don’t have a time frame on too much here. We wake up in the morning and today we’re in Philadelphia and we’ve decided not to practice today. We’ll do a pregame skate tomorrow because we felt the group was a little bit flat last night. We’re going to do some meetings and an off-ice workout and then tomorrow we’ll get up and work the game day and so on. It’s really, you know, we need to feel what the group needs on the given day. And it’s the same with the development of a player; we’re going to take Casey day-by-day. There’s no time frame on that at all. It’ll all be, you know, there’s so many factors coming at decisions like that. What’s happening here? How healthy are we here? And so on and so forth. So no time frame; just as we are here, get up, try to get better and take care of the next task as best as we can.
HS: One other thing I wanted to ask you about: I read some comments from the other day about how you text Sean McDermott. And I know you and some of the players were congratulating the Bills the other day on clinching the playoff spot and you had mentioned that — first off, nice job staying up Sunday night for the game, that was good. Good decision on your part. And you had mentioned that you text with Sean McDermott. Is there anything you can learn as a coach from a guy who’s coaching the football team in town?
RK: Oh, we just bounce back and there’s always depth in the messages back and forth with, you know, with a sentence or two. Sean sent some video tips this way of other athletes from other sports, even from basketball, saying something that we both like. But the goal that Sean and I have in common is to make the fans base in Buffalo for sports proud of what we’re doing. We communicated about that in the summer and he’s written me that a few times. All I can share is that it’s a very natural friendship that’s growing and I’m just a really big fan of the Bills and what they’re doing there and how they’re doing it. It feels like vice versa; they like what we’re doing. It’s good to see some Bills players at games and our players love to go there. The relationship beginning with our owners’ passion for sports in Buffalo and getting the sports scene back on track is carried by Sean and myself in the same way. We’re just working hard every day to try to do that and I’m very, very excited for the Bills that they made the playoffs. We’re going to be cheering loud for them.
HS: Well, appreciate you coming on, as always. Thanks very much for getting up with us this morning form Philly. Good luck tomorrow night against the Flyers.
RK: Thank you so much, gentlemen. Thanks for the support, it’s been wonderful and we look forward to a good game tomorrow and then having a wonderful game on Saturday afternoon against L.A. at home in the KeyBank Center.
HS: And you don’t have to stay up late for the Bills game Saturday, it’s a 4:30. So you can get done with your game and then watch the football game.
RK: That’s good, thanks.
HS: Have a nice day, Ralph.
RK: You enjoy your day too. Thank you.