March 11, 2020
Howard and Jeremy (8 a.m.)
Howard Simon: Ralph, it is Howard and Jeremy. Good morning. Welcome to the show, sir. How are you doing today?
Ralph Krueger: Good morning, gentlemen. Good morning to your listeners. Yeah, I’m doing fine, thank you.
HS: Hey, Ralph, before we get to the hockey team, we’ve been spending the show talking about what is now impacting the sports world and, of course, the regular world and that is the coronavirus story. You’ve seen in your league now, locker rooms closed to the media. I’m wondering, and I know you have some stories to talk about because you know people in Europe, but at this point what have the teams heard? What kind of direction, if anything, can you share that you’re all getting from, whether it’s coming to you from ownership or whether it’s coming from the league to all the teams?
RK: At the moment, there’s nothing different than all of us in society just being careful on our hygiene and following the recommendation of the experts. We haven’t had any disruption to our processes other than the contact in the dressing room with the media. For as an example, my life hasn’t changed because I’m doing press conferences on a daily basis and I’m still doing them. Our life would be similarly affected to anybody listening to the show right now. How it’s going to evolve, how it’s going to develop, we’re just going to follow the lead of the league and their recommendations. But thus far, getting ready for the game in Montreal tomorrow, nothing has changed thus far.
HS: You have a son who plays hockey in Switzerland. What has he been telling you about what’s going on over there?
RK: Everything’s gone on in a different speed there because of the breakout in that cluster in Italy. So the Swiss league, my son, his final two league games, which we’re two weeks removed now already, were played in front of empty stands and no spectators. I’m sure everybody here has picked up on the fact that most of the European leagues have shut down; the German hockey league has shut down. In Europe, they’ve had to take drastic measures because of the spread that was going on. Life has definitely changed there. Switzerland, they’re actually quite a ways into this process already. They closed the attendance of any events of more than 1,000 people already more than a week ago, so it’s almost 10 days. They’re going to wait until the 15th to the 17th of March before they make their next move. But there’s not really any fear in the society because it’s under control. They took those measures quickly and everybody’s just following good hygiene.
HS: You have, also, a previous working connection to soccer in Europe. I assume you’re aware of what’s going on with some of the soccer leagues, the UEFA games and how that’s been greatly impacted.
RK: The crazy one is the Manchester City/Arsenal game,; I’m sure everybody knows those brands. An owner of an opposition team came in contact with players, so they’ve had to quarantine the players. Games have been postponed and canceled. It’s very disruptive. With La Liga, that’s the Spanish soccer league, and the Serie A, which is the Italian soccer league, shutting down for the month, it’s truly causing stress in the sports processes there. It’s a situation that we need to respect, but you still don’t see a need for anybody to panic. Hopefully in Western New York so far, I feel people have been taking very responsible steps. My wife and I were out in the city of Buffalo last night, down in the core of the city and the theater area, and everything seems to be moving as usual, but we just need to be smart.
Jeremy White: Ralph, I wonder if you might have an opinion on this: I feel like there’s a little bit of push back on what’s happening. People are calling it a panic, but it does appear to me that there’s not a lot of panic, but a lot of precaution being taken by these leagues. If the NHL makes the next step, maybe the board of governors of the NBA makes a statement today, I don’t think precaution is necessarily panic.
RK: No, definitely not. What everybody did — and I experienced it through my home country, Switzerland — everything they’ve done has been very cerebral and with proper plan. Nobody is panicking in the country at all. There’s no rush on food, or clothing or anything in the country. It’s just functioning carefully and smartly to stop the spread; that’s what it’s all about. It’s certainly no panic in those countries. It’s quite calm, actually, day-to-day life over there. I think that everybody here needs to realize that all the steps being taken in North America right now, you need to take it seriously, but you don’t need to panic. Just take the steps that are being recommended right now.
HS: So your game the other night, a couple things I wanted to bring up: First off, the smile on Jack Eichel’s face when he scored his goal and broke his drought, and how much that probably helped him feel a little bit relieved, I assume.
RK: Well he definitely deserved that goal; the whole group had been working quite hard through a stretch where — we spoke about it last week and you guys were really fair in the conversation, too — we were in a lot of pain as we were playing some good hockey against most of the hotter teams in the National Hockey League but not getting any reward, and Jack was a part of that whole process, of course. He’s an important part of the process. For him to score — every goal scorer is going to go through phases like that — it’s good to see that smile and good to see his confidence returning. We need it now. We need some positive experiences here moving down the stretch of the season. Real pleased to see that goal. It was a beautifully executed one. I think it was the eighth pass in a row on that power play, so it was also very nice and well-deserved goal.
HS: You tweaked the power play look a little bit, if you could talk about that. Olofsson, typically on the wing, you had him in the high slot. It seemed like the triangle up top was very effective, not just on that goal, but overall pretty effective in creating things with Eichel, Dahlin and Ristolainen when they were in that form.
RK: The five of them just have so much skill and so much talent that moving them around can surprise the opposition. We might set it up a little bit different again tomorrow. I think that surprise and deception are important, also, strategically not only within the power play. What Dahlin, Ristolainen and Jack (Eichel) were able to do there was just a lot of real quick puck movement and through simple lanes. We need to keep that speed up on our power play. The power play is the offensive motor. To get our offense going, which is still not at the speed we need it to be, the power play is going to be a centerpiece, so let’s keep building on it. But we do have skill in that group and everybody’s so different and unique in the way they bring offense into it. I’s a lot of fun to work with those guys.
HS: You put Skinner with Eichel and Reinhart last couple games. What have you seen from that line so far?
RK: Well I’m sure you guys were happy. [Laughs]
HS: [Laughs] I was. I was. Thank you, by the way. No, I was curious, because Jeff (Skinner) was at least scoring and he seems like now he’s getting more shots. He seems a little bit more active. It’s not like they’ve had a ton of goals, that line, in the two games, but they look like they’re creating things, you know?
RK: That was able to happen because of the synergy that we felt between Johansson, Kahun and Olofsson. It’s always about finding combinations that we have. Two lines that are pushing more for offense, the other two taking care of penalty kill and our defensive responsibilities, but still adding offense. Yeah, we’ll see how it goes forward. But you know how it’s been this year: We’ve moved players around. Everybody needs to be able to play with everybody. At the moment, that’s a good look. We like the four lines the way they look at the moment. It feels good and we’re happy we were rewarded for it against Washington. Now we need a confirmation against Montreal.
HS: There was some controversy the other night with the Montour goal that was waved off. I don’t know if the league even makes referees available to pool reporters for an explanation, but did they give you an explanation as to what they saw live and why they decided to wipe out the goal?
RK: I never take it personally. Referees are standing at a certain angle; they don’t get to watch a reply. That was more what I was upset about, is that goals that can decide games like that down the stretch, last five minutes or wherever we pick the mark, should be reviewed. That would have been a matter of seconds for a referee to review that and see that it should be counted as a goal. I would prefer if they would just always count it if they’re unsure and then review it. It was the process that upset me more than the decision; we all make mistakes. He had a bad angle, he came over and said I couldn’t see a review, I couldn’t see a challenge on it, I had to make the original decision on the ice. I was upset under the circumstances that we were in. The team’s fighting to get out of a losing streak and needing some confidence. Watching that all evolve, I was proud of the guys being able to park that and still find a way to win the game. But the explanation, to me, was simply that watching it live, he thought there was contact, but the video review showed quite clearly that there wasn’t contact inside the blue paint. So, for us, certainly, it should have been counted as a goal.
HS: So you’re wrestling with the decision, and if you lose [a challenge], they’re getting a power play. But because of what you just said, you want to stop the losing streak and all this, you would have had, what, inside three minutes, whatever the time was, a one-goal lead. Why didn’t you just say, “You know what? I’m going to take my chances. I’m going to challenge this because we really need this goal”?
RK: Well I’ve challenged twice where we got turned down and we had a shorthanded situation, so I just didn’t trust it being overturned. I’ll tell you honestly that it has to be absolutely, 100 percent clear in the video for it [to be] overturned and I wasn’t confident that it was — it might have been 95 percent. So I learnt the hard way and there’s no way I was going to do that to the team, that we were going to finish a game shorthanded against Washington, because I believed in our chance of winning in overtime. We’ve been a really good 3-on-3 team and also believed that we had, with the home crowd, and they were fantastic in overtime. And in penalty shots, I was thinking mathematics was still on our side. It did work out in the end; if it wouldn’t have worked out, I’d probably be telling you guys a different analysis this morning. Under the circumstances, we just didn’t believe it was going to be overturned.
HS: Before we let you go, from the “just curious” department of questions: The shootout — I’m not sure if we’ve brought this up with you at all this season. What’s your opinion of the shootout in general? Let’s start there.
RK: My opinion in general is that Mike Bales, our goalie coach — it’s like a specialty team for us, it doesn’t come to play very often — but he’s generally in charge of setting it all up. So we do a lot of looping of information on opposition, and one of them is, of course, goaltending performances in shootouts. It’s running in the dressing room before the game so players can see it. Mike sets all that up, analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the other goalies, and he also is a major force in deciding who’s shooting on our team because he does watch them a lot in practice and tries to figure out who would work best against the opposition teams. So we do have a strategy there and, again, just like penalty kill and power play, we consider shootouts a specialty team that can be extremely important because of the points that are on the line, so that’s kind of how we build it.
HS: Do you like [the shootout]? It’s funny; when they brought the shootout into being, Ralph, I thought, “Ah, that’s a great idea.” Loved it. Drama. If I’m at a game in the building, everybody stands up for the entire shootout. The other night, you had sudden-death shootout. But I feel like it’s — over the course of time — it’s played itself out. I think overtime is far more exciting to me now than the shootout. Do you like shootout or do you think maybe we could extend overtime and just scrap a shootout all together?
RK: Well, guys, what’s happening with the 3-on-3, there’s so many more goals in overtime now. When we played 5-on-5 overtime at the beginning, it was boring. Teams would just shut it down. So the 3-on-3 is fantastic, but you can’t go any longer, because the best players are playing and they would be fried if you had a back-to-back, for instance, the next day. So I think the shootout — if you look at our crowd the other night and you look at how much fun they had with it, and it took the seventh shooter to score (the game-deciding goal), I think everybody went home feeling they got entertained to the top level here. It was against one of the best teams in the league, a serious Stanley Cup contender; to win in the shootout was a better finish than if we would have tied, left home with everybody getting only one point. So I think the way we’ve got it set up here seems to work; if you look at our schedule and you look at the pace, we couldn’t extend it any longer. In the playoffs, you get to go the whole [overtime] until it’s over, which is important. I think it’s a good addition to the game. It’s a lot of fun.
HS: Well, Ralph, as always, thanks for giving us time on the show. Appreciate you coming on with us this morning and good luck tomorrow night in Montreal against the Canadiens.
RK: Thank you for the call and I wish all of our listeners a good day today.