January 29, 2020
Howard & Jeremy (9 a.m.)
Howard Simon: Ralph, it’s Howard and Brayton. Good Morning, how are you sir? Welcome to the show.
Ralph Krueger: I’m okay, Howard, how are you guys?
HS: Eh, you know, there’s been better days. Linus Ullmark, let’s start there. Is there anything else? It did not look good last night, is there anything you can update us on in terms of his injury and his situation?
RK: Well, just that it’s something we have to take really seriously and we expect to lose him for a few games. The question will be how many and he’s being diagnosed this morning and we should know more in a couple of hours. But it looks like there will be a setback there with Linus.
HS: So have you called anybody up from Rochester, Ralph?
RK: We will definitely have somebody moving this direction for practice today and we’ll be announcing that somewhere around the pregame skate time, you know, the skate we have today getting ready for Montreal tomorrow. But yeah, we’ll need to bring somebody up for sure.
HS: So how do you, I don’t know if you’ve even thought through this process yet, but with Ullmark out for at least a few games, what do you do in terms of your goaltending approach? He’s been the guy you’ve been leaning on. Does that now just go to Hutton or do you kind of mix things up with whoever you bring up from Rochester?
RK: We’re continuing to try to fix things a day at a time, whether we have a good day or a bit of a rougher night like last night, we’re here today to work with the bodies that are healthy and the guys that are here and Carter (Hutton) has been working very hard on getting his confidence up and on his game. He had a good finish last night, and we’re optimistic that he can be a strong goalie for us tomorrow against Montreal. But how it goes then after that is day-to-day. First of all, we’re not sure how long Linus will be out, and if he is out a while, it just becomes a two-goalie competition again with one of our depth players and we’ll see how that evolves.
HS: When you get to a point like this with a goalie, and maybe it’s with any position if there’s an injury and you and Jason (Botterill) have to figure out, you know, what are you doing, who’s coming up from Rochester, you know you’re taking somebody. They’re in a playoff spot, they’re playing critical games; I guess maybe when it does specifically come to goalie, how do you guys go through that thought process? Is it whoever’s the best guy for the Sabres? How much do you take into account how much that player being called up could affect Rochester?
RK: Yeah, we definitely are in conversation about that every week. You need to look at our depth and we have a close connection to Rochester, you know, with Chris Taylor having been up here for the first part of this season. We have a very easy flow of information. Randy Sexton was here last night too, the GM of Rochester. We are always in conversation about who’s hot and who’s not, and who’s developing and who would be the next guy. Let’s take Curtis Lazar: He was here for a while, we sent him back down with a to-do list. He checked all the boxes and as we felt he was ready he came back up and now he’s become an important player for us. So it doesn’t matter the position, we’re always looking at what would happen if. You always prefer to keep a healthy team but it’s not the reality of the National Hockey League and the pace we’re on here. It’s that constant conversation that makes it really easy for us then to look for the solution when we need to.
HS: Before we get to last night’s game, since we’re on the topic of injuries, what is the update on Victor Olofsson at this point?
RK: We’re very optimistic that he’s still on track, which for us means five, six games still at least, but optimistic that he’s going in the right direction and that the lower-body injury he has is healing in the way we’d like it to. But we still need to wait a few weeks on him.
HS: Last night, coming out of the break, obviously a very disappointing night for the hockey team. And you know, Ralph, you guys have very little wiggle room. After the break, you come out, you look like you have a favorable schedule, you have an opponent that played the night before, and you end up losing. What wasn’t going well? How can you explain how at times it just looked like there wasn’t enough energy and jump in the game?
RK: Yeah, I could give you the simple or the complex version. I’ll give you a combination of the two. When you look at it at the end, we had three shorthanded goals against, we had four penalties in the offensive zone in the game. Both of those are just unacceptable, but in general you’re right. There were phases in the game where in the second period we had two long shifts in our end where we just seemed to be a step behind and we weren’t able to put the defensive pressure on Ottawa that we’d like to. Compliment to them, I thought they played a very good game, but we allowed them to have space here and there that we usually don’t. There were some turnovers that you might have expected coming out of the break early in the game but those we were able to manage better in the second half. We didn’t really have as many offensive mistakes as early on, so that was coming back on track. But our inability, really, then to score on the power play in the final period where we had a couple of opportunities, plus them using their power-play opportunities was really the difference. Very disappointing but we have no time to feel sorry for ourselves. It’s about recovery, it’s about picking ourselves up here today and showing our fans who stuck with us last night right to the end, that we can do much better than that tomorrow against Montreal.
HS: I’m curious, in terms of your approach with the players. Jason Botterill was on The Instigators yesterday, Ralph, and one of the things he talked about was that you guys are telling the players, “Focus on the small picture. Win two of three games.” But how hard is it not — as a player I’m sure they’re all well aware of the standings — how hard is it not to think, “Wow, we’re 10 points out and you missed out on an opportunity to get two points closer to everybody last night.”
RK: You just have no time to feel sorry for yourself. We’re angry and we need to look at it today and we will be honest in and with the group about what we need to do better and what was unacceptable last night. We do look our breakdowns and our mistakes in the eyes and then we need to grow and learn from it. But there’s just absolutely no time for us to look for help from anywhere but inside our room. We need to come out fighting tomorrow. The picture being small, it’s just the best way to deal with the pace of the NHL. Whether things are good or things are bad, you need to concentrate on what you can change. And what we can change is that we play a much more complete game tomorrow.
HS: And that is against Montreal, the Sabres’ next game. Ralph Krueger with us on the West Herr Hotline. Bigger picture to your season, I wanted to ask you, because the team has been streaky. You open up 8-1-1 and then it’s 2-8-2. And then you go 5-1-2, and then it’s 1-6-1 and you’re 5-3-0 going into the break. You lose the game last night. Why do you think it’s been such a roller coaster ride? Why have there been issues sustaining an extended level of success?
RK: That’s a really good question, and it’s something we’re looking at in the coaching room. Those two negative phases that you spoke about are definitely the ones that have put us in the position that we’re in right now. We are working on a way of play and a Sabres kind of hockey that is demanding and needs to keep you on your toes. You need to keep your feet moving and you need to be working really hard right through every game, 60 minutes at a time. The inconsistency has sometimes come with the amount of games coming at us. It’s also come sometimes in just the mental consistency that we’re looking for in some of our younger players and they are working hard at that. They are growing and developing in front of our eyes, but there’s no one single point. What it also is that every single game here is a grind. Every game you have to expect to have a one-goal game and you need to deal with it accordingly. We just didn’t in a couple of phases through the season and as you’ve already mentioned we need to get that back on track really quick. We have a lot of home games coming up and we need to feed off our fans and feed off being here and right these last two results quickly. We were tied going into the third period in Nashville,we were tied last night, and we just didn’t bring it up to the next level like we have been in tight games like that. It’s very disappointing, but our fans need to know we are going to work hard on it here today as always and work for a better day tomorrow.
HS: You got Jeff Skinner back last night. What did you think of his first game back?
RK: It’s 10 games without a game so there’s going to be some sharpness, there’s going to be some details that need to be worked on, but overall he was there. He was back in the group working to play within our system and yeah, like all our offensive players, we need to get them on the offensive side. We need to get them into some scoring positions and get them some results. The 5-on-5 game in general was solid. And important is his shoulder, and his upper body overall felt good last night and he can continue to evolve that way.
HS: One question with him and then I have one other thing before we let you go, Ralph. With Skinner, we’ve talked to you before about line combinations and there is the concept of trying to spread out your scoring and not necessarily load him up on one line. What about the power play? I know he hasn’t scored a power-play goal this season, maybe that’s your answer, but how come you don’t get Skinner on the top power play more?
RK: Yeah, that group actually had been quite strong for us over the last six games and him coming back into the lineup, we wanted to see how he was doing, how he felt. He did get a shot late in the game. He did have some shifts with (Jack) Eichel and (Sam) Reinhart 5-on-5 at the end of periods. We wanted to ease him in, he ended up with more minutes than we actually planned because we were chasing a score, but it is definitely an option that you’ll be seeing. It’s been a bit of a streaky power play this year and again, the last six, seven games, there was a synergy in that group that we felt we wanted to bring out of the break and not change everything around. But for sure you’ll see that as one of our options moving forward.
HS: And the last thing I wanted to ask you about. Going into the break you sent some guys to Rochester, (Lawrence) Pilut came back, Rasmus Asplund had gone down but he did not come back, can you give me your thoughts on where you thought his game was and why you thought it’s better for him to stay in Rochester and keep playing there?
RK: Yeah, Asplund is similar to the (Curtis) Lazar situation where that’s a player who came over, he played his first year in North America last year, he got a lot of good looks this year and did a super job with us early on and he’s just back down working on a few things. We see him as part of our team for the future and we’re excited about what he can bring us on both sides of the puck. He’s strong defensively, he’s very responsible, he’s got good feet and a good mind. It’s sometimes good for a young player who’s still learning the North American game and after that the NHL and it’s pace. You know, his first 21 games were in 38 days. That’s probably a record for a rookie in the National Hockey League. He came in right after the Sweden trip and we thought he did really well but it was quite a workload. We just feel that a few games down in Rochester would be good for his development. But I’m sure we’ll be seeing him back here at some point again in the season.
HS: Casey Mittelstadt. Has anything been determined about whether or not you think he’ll be back here at some point this season?
RK: He’s also in a developmental curve where the time down there is doing him well. He’s gotten a lot of minutes of ice time. he’s seen both power play and penalty kill, and as a future center in the National Hockey League, the defensive experiences down there are just as good as the offensive ones. Once again, with Chrius Taylor and his staff, we’re really excited about eh work he gets on a daily basis. Whether he comes back in the next few weeks or not, there’s no fixed plan there, but we are discussing that on a regular basis.
HS: Alright, Ralph, as always, thanks for giving us some time on the show. We appreciate it and good luck tomorrow night against the Montreal Canadiens.
RK: .Thank you very much, Howard, and I wish you and your listeners a good day. The Sabres will come out fighting against Montreal tomorrow. I know it’s going to be a great atmosphere in there and you’re going to see a reaction.