February 5, 2020
Howard & Jeremy (9 a.m.)
Howard Simon: Ralph, it’s Howard and Jeremy. Good morning, thanks for coming on with us, first of all.
Ralph Krueger: Good morning, Howard and Jeremy.
HS: Ralph, (the score was) 2-1 after one [period] last night, and then the wheels fell off. What happened in the second period?
RK: Well there’s no question that we had 20 of the most disappointing minutes of our season from the 13th minute of the first period right through taking six goals in a 20-minute period is not acceptable. There were individual breakdowns right through it — we’re actually just going through it right now in the coaches room — lots of situations that we can learn from. Our frustration is there and we’re going to work with it and we’re going to do all we can to improve from this disappointment.
Jeremy White: Ralph, at different times of the season you’ve had different things that have hurt you. When it was the power play, you told us that when you’re seeing good things from it, when it’s operating well but it’s not scoring that’s not a major concern. Last night’s game, I think if you’re going back to the tape, the numbers would suggest that chances, high-danger chances, it was not a 6-1 blowout in that department. It was fairly even. Even inside of a 20-minute period where you say it might have been your worst 20 minutes of the season, it seemed to me that chances were even, it’s just that goals were going in on one end.
RK: Yeah, I mean we had a 13-13 shot clock at the halfway mark of the game and it was just every time they went down they were lethal. Colorado’s one of the better teams in the league and (if) you give them any spaces, they use it — and we certainly didn’t. We came out of the starting blocks with a 7-1 shot total and we didn’t have a goal to show for it, so it doesn’t mean anything, doesn’t help you if you don’t take advantage of a good start. Once they got that momentum going, it seems like — the 3-1 goal early in the second period we went way too high risk on our toes. We didn’t stay calm like we have been in the past with only being down two and trying patiently to get ourselves back into the game. We threw the whole house at them and gave up completely on our defensive game, and they punished us for it. It was just not the way we needed to manage the game. But again, the job of coaches is to get up in the morning, look for what we can do to strengthen ourselves. We’ve got no time to feel sorry for ourselves in the NHL. We all know we’re back at it against Detroit tomorrow and that’s what we have to do here.
HS: How much of a set back do you think was last night for Carter Hutton? He had gone through the losing streak and he’s trying to get his confidence back, get a couple wins against Montreal and Columbus and he’s chased last night. Again, I know it’s not all his fault, but at the very least, he just couldn’t bail (the team) out when there were breakdowns in front of him. He couldn’t bail the team out. What was last night in terms of, you think, of affecting his confidence going forward?
RK: Well, you know guys, he’s a very confident player. He’s an experienced player and he’ll just go back to work here today. He takes responsibility when I go by him after we made the goalie change, he’s the most critical of himself. We move him forward again too and need to work with him. He’s, once again, somebody who can put this in the right place and get himself, get his feet back up. He’ll stand up tall again today.
JW: Do you envision (Jonas) Johansson getting a start down the stretch here? You’ve got a bunch of games coming up. You got back-to-backs Thursday, Friday.
RK: We have a lot of bodies out, as you know, right now. Quite a few guys on IR. We’re going through the tapes of last night, we’re going to — you know, we’ve got the back-to-back like you said going up here against Detroit, the Rangers. For sure, Johansson will get a start here somewhere. We’re just going to kind of weed through all the information here before we make our decision. We still need to see who we’ll be getting back. We hope to get one or two guys back, maybe, from the injury list and then we’ll mix the cards. But Johansson will be getting a start here in the next few games.
HS: In the small sample size, when he got in last night, what’d you think from [Johansson]? What’d you see from him, I guess?
RK: We really liked the way he came in. He ended up eating one off the 2-on-1 early; it was an unbelievable shot that he really didn’t have a chance on, on the short side. We thought he settled in nicely and showed a very calm first performance. Made some nice plays with the puck too, which for European goalies coming over to North America is always a skill set they don’t really start learning properly until they’re over here. With and without the puck, his size, his positioning takes away a lot of the net. There weren’t a lot of holes in his game. There were some good scoring chances in the third as we were trying to force some opportunities at the other end to give our fans something to cheer about going home. We thought overall it was a really good performance from him and probably the one positive that we all need to take out of last night would have been his performance.
HS: Ralph, I’m curious, you’re very much positive reinforcement and all that in terms of your attitude as a coach with your players. What do you do — you look at the standings this morning, you’re I think 11 (points) out of third (in the Atlantic Division) and 12 (points) out of the No. 2 wild card. Coming out of the break, it’s now three out of four losses. When you looked at the schedule, thought, “Okay, maybe they can win a whole bunch of home games here.” What do you do as a coach or a coaching staff to keep the players focused, to make sure that the adversity doesn’t lead to the attitudes becoming really bad, and it just snowballs?
RK: That’s a really good question. We understand the reality. Trust me, guys. What you’re saying, all those facts, we know the facts. We look them in the eyes and need to be realistic about our situation. Once we’ve looked at it, we need to move forward again and teach and coach and work with these guys to continue to evolve our game. We are going in and out of it since the break. The Columbus game was an excellent performance right through and all that was missing, really, was a little more offense, possibly. We left that game again last night, especially for that stretch in the second period. I thought in the first (period), like you already said, it was a pretty even game; we deserted our game for about 10 minutes. I was at least pleased with the guys coming up in the third period with a pretty even match, trying to get ourselves ready for Detroit. What we need to do is keep the picture small right now. We have very many young exciting players, and we cannot forget that. There is some real value in the core of our team here, and some elite players who need coaching and need developing, and also with this pain and then this time they need that. That’s our job as coaches, is to keep them in that space without letting them avoid the reality of the situation. We have to let the pain come into our room. We have to look at it, we have to try and understand it, but then again we have to work with it now. Continue to teach these guys, continue to learn to become a team that wins two out of three games in the National Hockey League — that’s what you have to do to be in the race, to be a playoff team. We will continue to do all we can to get back to that pace.
HS: It’s hard to do though, because like you said at the top of the answer you mentioned, you’re all well aware of the standings, and I would think it’s human nature. You can talk about it, Jason Botterill has mentioned to our afternoon guys the whole small picture, two out of three. But it’s human nature as a player to understand the bigger picture, and the bigger picture is not a pretty picture.
JW: And I would just add to that, Ralph, I would feel like it’s important that you’d want them to know where they stand in the big picture within the rest of the league. If you’re not looking out enough, are you looking in too much?
RK: We know that every day. Our key players and I am speaking to the media every day and it’s quite clear that everybody in our environment is reminding us of that, guys. That’s everybody’s job, trust me, that’s fine. We have to be able to take that because when the good times are here, we need to be able to deal with that properly. When the tough times are there, they’re there to test our character, they’re there to test our resolve. Listen guys, everybody in this room knows what’s going on here, we’re not hiding from that. But the other thing we know is that we do have a youthful core, that we do have players with — still — upside potential that’s exciting and that we maybe don’t have everything in line right now to be consistently that two-of-three team, but we’re going to work to be that. I do see growth here. I do see development. I do see character here, and I do see a lot of guys working very, very hard and improving on a daily basis. In the end, that’s all you can do when you have adverse situations is take care of what’s in you control. We’re going to continue to do that, we’re not going to let our guards down there. We’re going to work hard to have our fans proud of the work ethic and the game that we’re playing, which they aren’t right now. Only we, with our work and what we do on the ice beginning with Detroit tomorrow, can get that back.
HS: Jeff Skinner, I want to ask you about him before I let you go, Ralph. No goals now in 15 games. When you have a guy like that, who is an NHL goal-scorer, who’s in a drought like this, do you talk to him? Do you stay away? He’s got enough pressure, let him work it out? What do you do? Obviously your team needs production from a number of veteran players — he’s one of a handful of guys. But what do you do when a guy like him is in a drought like this?
RK: Our secondary scoring definitely needs to ignite and we work with him. Donny Granato, being more in charge of the forwards, and myself, working also primarily in the game with the forwards while Steve Smith’s doing the [defense], we do use video footage. We have one-on-one meetings. We’re permanently communicating with all the players. In a situation like Jeff’s, we’re working together with him to try to find that path back, because we know he’s a streaky scorer and once he gets going here he can really help us to turn the energy here and turn the results. We’re working on that daily together and trying to find the right path for him. He was on the first power play yesterday for those two power plays we had, and there’s other ways — he was double shifting at times yesterday, jumping in with (Rasmus) Asplund and (Jean-Sebastien) Dea and just trying to get that first goal. I’m sure once we get the first one we’ll get more, but it’s a permanent coaching process going on here.
HS: Last thing, because I think you mentioned it earlier: You were talking about maybe getting some guys back, so we’re talking like that’s the [Rasmus] Dahlin, [Curtis] Lazar, [Johan] Larsson group, I assume?
RK: Yeah, those three are all candidates short term. We see (Victor) Olofsson developing in a good way; he’s still a few games away. Excited and looking forward to getting him back. [Kyle] Okposo, who’s just such an important player and person for us in the group, we hope that his injury (status) stays in a couple of weeks versus longer than that. We’re hoping to at least get two of those bodies back by the game tomorrow.
HS: You said a few games for Olofsson, is there a time frame of when he might be back on the practice ice at this point?
RK: Yeah, we’re hoping to see him in practice next week. But again, he is on course for that right now, but let’s see how these next four or five days go. With these lower-body injuries, the type that he has, you’ve just got to listen to the body. But we’re optimistic on him and he’s very hungry to get back into our lineup.
HS: Alright, Ralph. Thanks, as always for your time. Appreciate you coming on with us this morning and good luck tomorrow against the Red Wings.
RK: Thanks, guys, for a fair conversation on a tough morning. For our Sabres fans out there, the only thing I can say is we’re back at work here today and we appreciate the support. There was a lot of people still in the building yesterday right to the end. We can feel that passion and we’re going to do all we can to repay it.