November 13, 2019
Howard & Jeremy (8 a.m)
Howard Simon: Ralph, it’s Howard and Jeremy. Good Morning, sir. How you doing today?
Ralph Krueger: Good morning. I’m doing very well. It’s good to be home and we’re excited to have a home game tomorrow. So all well here.
Jeremy White: How was the trip as a group? Maybe outside of the games, the losses themselves.
RK: Yeah, there was definitely, definitely two sides to that trip. The one is the results that we’re disappointed with, especially in game two. But the overall experience for our team was excellent. The players were outstanding ambassadors for the Sabres, number one, and for the National Hockey League. I thought the overall way that we managed it was strong. And yeah, we’ve taken some good lessons with us too, which will make us stronger in the future. Tampa Bay, you know a strong opponent there. Overall, I would say a good experience and we’re happy to be back in the NHL rhythm though.
HS: Ralph, what kind of events did you guys have to do over there? You’re say, ‘ambassadors for the game.’ Were there a lot of events with kids? Events with fans from Sweden? Just an opportunity to kind of do stuff away from the ice?
RK: Yeah there was a regular stream of fans at the entrance and exits of the hotel. But at the arena we had a few interesting events that were good for getting contact with the fans. We had an open practice on the Thursday where five thousand, mostly kids, showed up and they were able to watch us skate but also came in contact with the guys. It was a good public relations event. The passion for hockey in Sweden runs very deep and, of course, with us having six Swedes with us, we were a popular group to visit. It was very, very warm the whole contact with everybody.
JW: How about fixing things for your five-on-five scoring at this point. You may have some ideas, we might see some changes. It’s a longer layoff. Maybe with this longer period of time, are there any tweaks that we should expect to see on the way to, whether it’s the forward group, the defense group, or is it just kind of keep plugging and see what you’ve got as the season rolls along?
RK: Well we actually, five-on-five, it was two-two first game, three-three second game. It was our specialty teams that let us down in Sweden. We lost the specialty teams games in both of those and came home without points. I think that five-on-five, we are seeing more pressure to the net in the second game, getting over 40 shots on net is not necessarily a goal that we need to have. If you’re leading in the National Hockey League you don’t need to be pumping shots like that, but it was good for us to have that and also see a lot of net pressure and to see often two bodies in and around that. So that’s a first step five-on-five to create more scoring. At the moment, we’ve got a couple of injures we’re going to be still assessing here this morning and we’re going to see how the group comes together. Yeah, there are a few things we need to improve. We know that. It’s a constant, constant, every day searching for little areas and that’s one that we’re working on really hard.
JW: The scoring of goals at five-on-five kind of even, but maybe not the chances. Do you think you’re getting enough of the quality chances at five-on-five?
RK: Yeah, again, shots don’t always reveal the chance situation. I think that overall we need to get our power play firing again. It is the motor of our offense and when it’s confident and doing well it seems to carry into our five-on-five game. But we’ll, again, the guys are striving to go in the right direction. There’s a strong spirit here and we believe with these two home games coming up we can get our game back on track here pretty quickly.
JW: Have you given any thought to Jeff Skinner. I know you have to move lines around with Vladimir Sobotka out with an injury. Have you given any thought to reuniting Jeff Skinner with Jack Eichel, something we saw a lot last year with a lot of success but have yet to see this year.
RK: Well the Eichel-Reinhart-Olofsson line was outstanding in Sweden, scoring all the five-on-five goals and we’re happy to see them clicking. They were generally firing on power play early in the season, but that goal production now, you know, five goals in that period of time shows that they’re trending well and we need to get some other line scoring offensively for us to get more balance. We’re very pleased with the Eichel line at the moment.
HS: There are no goals yet this season from Jimmy Vesey. Not to single him out because plenty of guys aren’t scoring right now at even strength beyond the Eichel combo. But Vesey in particular, Ralph, what are you seeing? Is he not doing the right things to generate better chances? Is it just not cashing in? Is it puck luck? What do you see from his game?
RK: Well we like the way Jimmy is fitting into the lineup. He’s taking on a penalty-killing role, which is new to him with this level of responsibility. He’s also supporting lines defensively in a way. And his speed and puck skill and drive will, you know, the goals will come eventually if he holds the line that he’s on right now. It’s not that that we focus on so much with Jimmy. We’d like to see secondary scoring through the lineup as I’ve already mentioned. But overall, the effort is there, he’s had some setbacks with a few injures that have held him out of the lineup too. I believe that Jimmy’s goals will come with time, he just needs to hold the line that he’s on right now.
HS: What about your team’s play in your own end? Everybody talks about good offense, if you have the puck you have possession, you’re forechecking, but if you’re spending a lot of time in your own end that’s going to hinder your offense. How about the time spent, say, not just the Sweden trip, if you go back through the losing streak, back to the Arizona game, how would you assess what’s going on in your own end? Are you spending too much time there?
RK: Well we’re eighth in the league in goals against right now and we’re quite pleased with that number. Any time you’re top ten, you’re going to be in the race, you’ll be part of the race. We are a group that’s learning and growing away from the puck every day. But we love the buy-in here. Everybody’s attempting to play within the principles and concepts. Again, nothing is ever perfect in the game, which makes it interesting, but we’re getting closer to the level of consistency that we want. It is truly the offensive production, if you look at something like the Islander game with a 1-0 loss, or even Arizona, the chances we left off the table, the goals against and the overall save percentage is above expectations right now. We just need to get the offense firing again from the coaches’ room. That’s the way we’re feeling. Time in the D-Zone, you know, there’s been shots, but I think the guys have been buying into how we can defend secondary opportunities. Chaos doesn’t show up too much in our D-Zone, so it’s more, again, at the other end of the rink that I believe we need to see an improvement here to get the results back.
HS: You mention the power play, you know, the motor that can drive the team. Of course it wasn’t going to sustain the rate that it was connecting on in the first couple three weeks of the season, but it’s cooled off a little bit of late. Anything the coaches have seen in particular there that might be something you could address?
RK: It’s an area where you often go in waves and waves of momentum. We’ve actually liked some of the possession and some of the O-Zone play better than we did early in the season when we were scoring. I think it’s just that we need to come up with more options that’ll surprise teams. The pre-scouting that goes on in the NHL is quite intense. We liked the personnel. We liked the way we they’re fighting for retrievals on the power play and they’re creating a lot of control time in the O-Zone. I think that getting a little more shot hungry would be probably the first place to go on the power play to create more chances.
JW: You’re saying shot hungry, I was going to ask you a follow up question, but then you meant the power play. I was going to ask more of your five-on-five play, if you felt like you need to be more shot hungry at five-on-five? I feel like I remember earlier in the season you talking about bodies to the net and higher quality shots as opposed to just shots on goal. Just looking at the rankings around the league, whether it’s shot attempts that are high-danger chances or expected goals high-danger chances, the team is kind of drifted down quite a bit, maybe into the bottom 10 even in terms of the share of high-danger chances, which is how many you get and how many you give up. So I wonder if that’s any bit of a concern to you? I started to ask it the one way about your five-on-five play, and it’s more than just the last two games in Sweden. As a general trend, it seems to be perhaps in a direction you might not want it to.
RK: Well again we’re quite pleased with the way the guys are buying into playing as a team. I think that you’re, when you’re getting losses those numbers are going to stray in the wrong way. For us it’s just one of the areas that we need to continue to improve on. I agree with you completely that we have a lot of things still to work on. We’re far from the finished product. The offensive production five-on-five is something that we, with our d-men getting more shots to the net, we don’t want to shoot just for shooting’s sake. We need to get the pressure to the net in general. We’re working on some things that tactically take some time, but again, I want to underline these guys are trying, they’re working hard, they’re very involved in practice and in our meetings that we have and are doing their best to try to improve in the areas we need to improve on and I believe you’re going to see it on the ice.
JW: One last question Ralph before I let you go, I know you’re busy. Rasmus Dahlin, the way that I say it jokingly, I say, ‘Dahlin’s broken!’ I know he’s not broken, but he’s not playing his best hockey and I would think one of the things you might want to do, or one of the things you might be thinking of, is how do we get this guy back to maybe where he was last year to continue to bring him along. So when you see Dahlin’s game, what is it that needs to be a little bit better? What is Rasmus doing well, what is he not doing so well right now?
RK: Well I’m going to defend Rasmus here because he’s working so hard on improving on the defensive side of the game. We’re spending a lot of time with him in that area and it’s going to take a little bit away from his offensive production as he’s cementing the habits there that he needs to cement. He’s still a teenager and everybody needs to remember that and we need to be patient with his game. For a defenseman it’s much more complex than as a young forward coming in. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, he’s just such a coachable kid. He’s working so hard on doing things right and getting them right and everybody’s going to continue to be excited. We aren’t disappointed with Rasmus at all because of the effort that he’s putting in. He’s putting on muscle mass, we’re trying to do weight lifting in and around all our games that we have. He’s right there in the front of the line working out as hard as anybody else. I think that also on the ice his offense, he just needs to relax and allow that genius to create when the opportunity is there and find the right balance, and that’s what he’s working on. I’m sure as well as the rest of the team, you’re going to see some good hockey here in the next few games.
HS: Ralph, thanks as always for giving us some time on the show and good luck tomorrow night against Carolina.
RK: Thanks Howard and Jeremy, and all the best to Sabres fans and we look forward to playing in front of you here at home again tomorrow night.
HS: Have a good morning.
RK: Ok, thanks, bye bye.