March 5, 2020
Howard and Jeremy (8 a.m.)
Howard Simon: Ralph, it’s Howard and Jeremy. Good morning, welcome to the show, sir.
Ralph Krueger: Good morning, Howard and Jeremy, and good morning Buffalo.
HS: Ralph, tough road trip, 0-4, a big blow obviously. What was your message or maybe what is your message to the team as you gather and get ready for tonight’s game against Pittsburgh after the difficult trip?
RK: I definitely agree with you. It was disappointing to come back from that road trip — and from the investment of energy there and the way the guys played in phases — with zero points. But we’ve got Pittsburgh here today. As a game day, number one, it’s always an event here at the KeyBank Center, it’s always wonderful to have a home game, but especially when you’re playing [the] Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s a special day. It’s a good one for us to throw our energy into. We’re not in a happy place right now, but we are in a place where we’re continuing to try to confirm our game. It’s a challenge where we need to make the picture really small here, concentrate on the game and a good performance here for our home crowd.
HS: The Eichel line is pointless now in five games. Is there anything in particular that you’re seeing that you could kind of, maybe pinpoint an issue as to why they have not been able to produce any points?
RK: It’s mathematics sometimes. When we look at the two games that were critical at the beginning of the trip in Colorado and against Las Vegas, the line had, combined, 15 shots on net and no goals, which mathematically made no sense. It’s just keeping that kind of persistence of looking for shots, continuing to look for opportunity, and the mathematics should pay off for them. They’re of course frustrated. Our power play was frustrated, as you well know we went 0-for- on the trip and it’s something that is our offensive motor and they’re a major part of that. They play the major minutes on the power play. So we, of course, have been having conversations about solutions, getting more simplicity, maybe, in the attack, [looking] for more net presence and all the habits that lead to goals. It’s hard work when things aren’t going in the easy way, and that’s what we need to do is work hard to get those opportunities here in [March].
HS: You broke up [Jack] Eichel and [Sam] Reinhart the other night in Winnipeg; was that a in-game try and get a spark thing or is that something you would continue tonight with different line combinations?
RK: You know what guys, it’s something that in a game we have been doing off and on during the season, whether it’s that change or somebody on the left side and [Victor] Olofsson would go on another line. It’s just when a team is down zero-three, making sure we never quit, we never give up and we try to fight our way back in. Sometimes line changes work, and it seemed to give a little bit of boost of energy. That duo especially, Reinhart and Eichel, is one that’s been so strong for us all season long. We’re not going to give up on it that quickly. But going through the games as we move on, we might look for some different combinations and other looks. If we need offense, some changes fresh up the guys sometimes and bring some new energy. So we’ll see how that goes tonight. Beginning, we’ll be leaving our lines alone.
HS: Ralph, there’s some speculation that Jack is playing through some kind of an injury. I don’t know if that does or does not tie into his five-game point drought at this point. Any talk about — if he’s playing through some kind of hurts and where the season’s gone, where the standings are — of shutting Jack down?
RK: It’s certainly not an injury that has any risk [by] putting him in the lineup, or we would be dealing with it differently. We have multiple players with aches and pains at this time of year, that’s the way hockey is. It’s not an injury that we find is jeopardizing his game that much, but it’s there. He’s showing captain leadership by fighting through it. Our medical team is working hard with him, and we hope in the next few days that it continues to get better, which it is actually doing even though he’s playing. But again, he’s not the only one; I have to say there are some ice bags in the room, but that’s the nature of the game and we need to learn to fight through that as a group and we are right now.
HS: The fact that he’s been taking faceoffs again, is that the indication that he’s getting better?
RK: Yeah, for sure guys. We wouldn’t be having him in the draws if it was a risk. It’s always the question you ask, “Can it get a lot worse if a player plays?” We avoid those situations wherever possible and that isn’t the case, so right now we’ve got a healthy lineup and we need to show that power in the game today against Pittsburgh.
HS: You were talking about the power play, and it had a difficult road trip, but I want to ask you about penalty killing because it’s had its struggles this season. As the coaches break down that — I mean it could be as simple as you can talk to us about the goaltender who has to make the save — but as the coaches break down what you see on tape from the penalty-killing unit, are there any particular issues that you could bring up or discuss in terms of trying to explain why that’s been a problem area?
RK: What’s been strange, guys, is at home we’ve been mid-table in our PK and it’s on the road that we’re at the very bottom. It’s a strange phenomenon; I’ve never seen it quite like that because generally our team and our structure and the way we perform, the principles, we apply the same at home as on the road. Our power play’s running pretty well equal road and home, so it’s a strange one. All you can do in those situations is work hard on the fundamentals. That’s the only thing we know how to do as a coaching staff, to continue to drive those in. We have made some personnel changes. You will have seen that [Kyle] Okposo was doing some penalty killing on the road here the last few games. We really liked what we saw in him; his game’s been such a team game right through the season here and his work without the puck’s been strong. Using different personnel is something we are doing also on defense, even seeing Rasmus Dahlin get some penalty-kill minutes. He actually hit 26 minutes the other night just on pure performance. There’s all kinds of different approaches. There’s no clean, easy fix in this league, it is so competitive, and it is so strong and especially the power plays of every team have a lot of skill in them. We just need to continue to work hard on the areas we’re not happy with, and it’s certainly one. Keep the PK going the way it is at home. It’s been really strong at home lately and it needs to be strong tonight for sure to give us a chance. Pittsburgh has one of the best in the league.
HS: Since we last talked to you you’ve added a couple of players. Want to ask you so far about [Wayne] Simmonds and [Dominik] Kahun. With Wayne Simmonds, what have you seen so far from him? What do you think he brings to your team?
RK: Well both of them bring personality that is unique. Wayne Simmonds for sure has a reputation of being a tough player who brings automatic respect because he is a very good teammate and an excellent human being. He’s brought another strong voice into our room. He is a player who really is there for his teammates all the time, pushing guys in the right direction, but also with an experience that people will listen to him. And the game he brings, he looks for the net front, he looks for the blue paint, he looks for the confrontation that is needed there. It’s a great example for us. Dominik Kahun is a play that I know from his European past. He’s, at 23, already won multiple championships over there, has been to World Championships, won a silver medal at the Olympics. Now he’s learning how to play the NHL game. That is something. He’s in his second season, he’s definitely got the skill, he’s got the smarts. He was a centerman his whole life before, so he understands the game without the puck. He’s been a spark plug kind of player for us here and we look forward to seeing him grow into our group. The important thing is when we add a player, he brings something fresh, something different, something new, another tool that is exciting. And both of them do that. It’s been a good move for the organization, and we look forward to seeing him grow here.
HS: Ralph, I’m curious, when players join an organization this late in the season, and maybe it’s different because one guy is a veteran and one guy is a younger player, how do you get them acclimated to your system, your philosophy, where they’re supposed to be on the ice? When they didn’t go through training camp, they weren’t here for most of the season, how do you get them up to speed and is it easier with a guy like Simmonds than Kahun because he’s been around the league so long?
RK: They’re both very smart players. Donnie Granato will take the forwards if they come in, Steve Smith will take the D and of course Mike Bales working with goalies. They will do the technical specific coaching through video. We don’t overload them. We stay close to new players; we make sure they understand. I’ll work with the general 5-on-5 structure, the way they need to fit in to our team game with and without the puck. There are just nuances and little tweaks. The NHL as a whole has a lot of copy-paste going on. There are general concepts that are similar in all the teams, and it’s just the way we put the package together is unique, certain nuances within that. They’ve done really well at stepping in, and it’s not ever going to be perfect as the game of hockey’s never a perfect game, but their hunger to try and get those things right has been big. Their game intelligence, their hockey IQs have been high. It is always a tough process for a player at this time of year, but both of them have done a really good job of stepping in and doing their best to execute within our team game, which is what we need to do to be the best version of the Buffalo Sabres that we can be.
HS: Ralph, final thing for you this morning, what is update on Linus Ullmark?
RK: He’s back in the group, he’s looking at NHL shots here. We’re hoping to bring him in as a backup not today, but within the next couple of games. It’s a process that you need to just take one day at a time. He’s only been (back) with us a couple of days now and it’s just good to have him back. As always, our rehab team sends players back to us in game-ready shape. Hoping to have him back in the lineup here in the next few games. He’ll be a good addition back into our group.
HS: I know that the trip wasn’t going well, but you did get a chance to go back to Winnipeg. Did you get caught up with some people? What’d you do when you were back in Winnipeg?
RK: Thanks for asking. It is my hometown. I had 12 family members of different types, in-laws and so on, at the game in Winnipeg, so that was a special event. My 89-year-old mother-in-law was at her first Winnipeg Jets game ever and very proud of being there. Those are the human sides of the game that are a beautiful thing to be a part of. We would’ve preferred to have had the win. It was good to be back in Winnipeg. I’m at home in Buffalo right now. It’s a great place to be at home. I know our fans are not pleased with the road trip, and they shouldn’t be. We all can’t be, but they should be pleased with the effort the players gave and the fight that’s in this group right now. We’re hoping to reward our fans with a real good fight here tonight against Pittsburgh.
HS: Well, Ralph, thanks for the time on the show, as always. We appreciate you coming on with us. Good luck tonight and we’ll look forward to talking to you again next week.
RK: Thank you Jeremy and Howard for the good conversation. Thank you to the support we’re feeling every day from the Sabres community and we will work hard to earn that support in a positive way. So thanks guys.