Author Archives: chrisdierken

Ralph Krueger Conference Call (3/23/20)

Ralph Krueger Conference Call (10:45 p.m.)


Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard and Jeremy (3/11/20)

March 11, 2020

Ralph Krueger

Howard and Jeremy (8 a.m.) (14:41)

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.

Game Preview: 2/7/20 at NY Rangers


Game Notes NHL Stats Press Clips

Thursday, February 6
Detroit 4 at Buffalo 3 (SO)
Goals: Vesey, Wilson, Rodrigues
Goalie: Johansson (18 saves/21 shots)
PP: 0/4; PK: 3/4; Shots: Buffalo 32 – Detroit 21

CURRENT INJURIES – (Man Games Lost: 260)
Player (injury, first game missed) – total games missed
Matt Hunwick (neck, Oct. 3; injured reserve) – 54 games
Vladimir Sobotka (knee, Nov. 9; injured reserve) – 38 games
Tage Thompson (shoulder, Nov. 19; injured reserve) – 34 games
Victor Olofsson (lower body, Jan. 4; injured reserve) – 12 games
Linus Ullmark (lower body, Jan. 30; injured reserve) – 4 games
Kyle Okposo (upper body, Feb. 1; injured reserve) – 3 games
Rasmus Dahlin (upper body, Feb. 4) – 2 games

2/4: Recalled F Rasmus Asplund from Rochester (AHL); Placed F Kyle Okposo on IR
2/5: Recalled F Scott Wilson from Rochester (AHL); Assigned F Jean-Sebastien Dea to Rochester (AHL)

Sunday, Feb. 9: Anaheim at Buffalo, 3 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 11: Detroit at Buffalo, 7 p.m.
Thursday, Feb. 13: Columbus at Buffalo, 7 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 16: Toronto at Buffalo, 7 p.m.
Tuesday, Feb. 18: Ottawa at Buffalo, 8 p.m.


  • This is the second of three meetings between the Sabres and Rangers this season.
  • Last meeting: New York defeated Buffalo 6-2 in New York on Oct. 24, 2019.
  • Next meeting: Sunday, March 22 in Buffalo
  • The Sabres are 3-5-2 in their last 10 games vs. the Rangers; 2-8-0 on the road.
  • This is the 185th game all-time between Buffalo and New York; Buffalo has an 82-67-35 series record.
  • The Sabres are 33-38-20 on the road against the Rangers all-time.


  • The Sabres are 12-7-2 all-time on February 7.
  • February 7, 1980: Danny Gare scores his eighth career hat trick and Don Edwards stops 25 shots to earn his 11th career shutout in a 9-0 win vs. Pittsburgh.
  • February 7, 1995: Donald Audette plays in his 200th NHL game, a 2-1 win vs. Washington.
  • February 7, 2013: Tyler Ennis records his 100th NHL point with an assist in a 5-4 shootout win vs. Montreal.


  • Tonight’s game is the lone road game in a 20-day stretch from Jan. 28 to Feb. 16 during which the Sabres play nine of 10 games at home.
  • Sam Reinhart has recorded five points (1+4) in five games at Madison Square Garden dating back to the beginning of the 2016-17 season.
  • Michael Frolik and Marcus Johansson have each totaled three points (1+2) in their last three games against the Rangers.
  • Conor Sheary has scored three goals in four meetings with the Rangers since joining the Sabres prior to the 2018-19 season.
  • Colin Miller has recorded three assists in three road games against the Rangers since the beginning of the 2017-18 season.
  • Carter Hutton is 4-2-0 in his career against New York with a .928 save percentage and a 2.19 goals-against average.
  • Sam Reinhart has totaled 13 points (7+6) in the Sabres’ last 13 contests.

Tonight’s game wraps up Buffalo’s 10th of 14 sets of back-to-back games this season, which began with a 4-3 shootout loss last night vs. Detroit. The Sabres are 3-5-2 in the first game of back-to-back sets and 4-4-1 in the second game so far this season. Buffalo’s point breakdown in previous back-to-back sets is: four points (0), three points (2), two points (5), one point (0) and zero points (2).


  • Rasmus Dahlin has totaled 74 points (12+62) through his first 126 NHL games, including 30 points (3+27) in 44 games this season.
  • With his assist on Jan. 30 vs. Montreal, Dahlin passed Bobby Orr (72) for fourth-most points recorded by an NHL defenseman before his 20th birthday. He now trails only Phil Housley (132), Ray Bourque (79) and Rick Hampton (76) for most points ever recorded by a teenage defenseman.
  • Aaron Ekblad’s 61 points (22+39) in 129 games as a teenager led active NHL defensemen for most points before turning 20 until Dahlin recorded his 62nd point with an assist in his 108th NHL game on Dec. 14 at NY Islanders. Andrei Svechnikov is the only active teenager in the NHL with more career points than Dahlin’s 72.
  • After last night’s game, Dahlin’s .59 points per game in his career ranked as the 16th-highest rate among active NHL defensemen with at least 10 career games played. His .681 points per game so far this season represent the best single-season scoring rate by a Sabres defenseman since Brian Campbell (.683) in 2007-08.


  • With his 29th goal in his 49th game of the season on Jan. 28 vs. Ottawa, Jack Eichel topped his previous best total set in the 2018-19 season (77 GP). He now has 31 goals in 53 games played this season.
  • Eichel’s output through 54 team games currently has him on pace to finish the season with 47 goals and 101 points, which would be the highest goal and point totals by a Sabre since Pat LaFontaine (53+95) and Alexander Mogilny (76+51) in 1992-93.
  • LaFontaine (83 in 1992-93), Mogilny (78 in 1992-93) and Gilbert Perreault (70 in 1975-76) are the only Sabres ever to have recorded more even-strength points in a season than the 69 Eichel is currently on pace for.
  • Despite missing 10 games due to injury, Rasmus Dahlin is currently on pace to record 49 points this season. With a point tonight, he would be on pace to become the Sabres’ first 50-point defenseman since Garry Galley (54) in 1995-96.
  • Sam Reinhart has scored 19 goals through his first 54 games this season. He reached the 20-goal mark in 69 games in his quickest season to 20 (2015-16). Reinhart is currently on pace to set career-high totals in both goals (29) and points (67).


  • After last night’s game, Jack Eichel’s 31 goals this season ranked fourth among all NHL players and his 66 points tied for eighth in the league.
  • Eichel has been held without a point in just four of his last 34 games played. During that stretch, which began with a four-goal performance vs. Ottawa on Nov. 16, Buffalo’s captain has totaled 47 points (23+24) in 34 appearances, also missing one game due to injury.
  • Eichel represented the Sabres at NHL All-Star Weekend on Jan. 24 and 25 in St. Louis. With his third consecutive All-Star nod, Eichel became the seventh player in franchise history to represent the team in at least three NHL All-Star Games. His four assists at this year’s event moved him past Rick Martin (7) for the most career All-Star Game points as a member of the Sabres (2+6).
  • He joins Martin as the only other player in franchise history to record at least 20 goals and 50 points in each of his first five NHL seasons.
  • Eichel’s 60th point of the season on Jan. 14 vs. Vegas made him the first Sabre to reach 60 points in 46 or fewer games since 1992-93 (Pat LaFontaine and Alexander Mogilny).
  • With his 30th goal on Jan. 30 vs. Montreal, Jack Eichel became the first Sabres player to record 30 goals and 30 assists in a season since Jason Pominville (30+43) in 2011-12. He became the 23rd different player in franchise history to accomplish this feat at least once and tied Gilbert Perreault’s 1974-75 season as the sixth-fewest games needed to reach the 30/30 mark (50).


  • Jack Eichel has recorded 17 multi-point games this season, ranking as the 12th-most in the NHL at the conclusion of last night’s game. The Sabres are 12-3-2 (.765) in those games.
  • Following last night’s game, Eichel’s six multi-goal games tied for fourth-most in the league and his nine multi-assist games tied for 11th-most.
  • Eichel has recorded at least three points seven times this season, topping his previous career-high total (6) set in the 2016-17 season. Only Connor McDavid (11), Leon Draisaitl (10), David Pastrnak (9) and Artemi Panarin (8) had more games with at least three points this season at the conclusion of last night’s game.
  • Sam Reinhart ranks second on the Sabres with 11 multi-point games this season. The team is 8-2-1 this season (.773) and 39-7-8 (.796) in his career when he records at least two points.

SABRES AMONG LEAGUE-LEADERS (Sabres’ league rankings after last night’s game)

  • Eichel: 3 OTG (T-2nd), 23 EVG (3rd), 7 GWG (3rd), 31 G (4th), 45 EVP (T-5th), 66 PTS (T-8th), 20 PPP (T-10th)
  • Olofsson: 9 PPG (T-11th)
  • Ristolainen: 162 hits (11th)

Hits: Ristolainen (162), Girgensons (87), McCabe (72)
Blocked Shots: McCabe (70), Ristolainen (61), Jokiharju (49)
Shots: Eichel (178), Skinner (141), Reinhart (111)

1-10: 8-1-1 (17), 38/24, 12/39, 23/30
11-20: 2-6-2 (6), 21/35, 2/26, 21/29
21-30: 3-4-3 (8), 34/34, 4/33, 23/32
31-40: 4-5-1 (9), 24/32, 4/23, 23/30
41-50: 5-5-0 (10), 30/32, 7/29, 21/29
51-60: 1-2-1 (3), 7/14, 1/9, 6/7

OVERTIME RESULTS (5-6; 125-134 all-time)
Oct. 7 at CBJ: L, 4-3 (Texier, 2:08)
Oct. 9 vs. MTL: W, 5-4 (Johansson, 1:30)
Oct. 22 vs. SJS: W, 4-3 (Eichel, 3:13)
Nov. 14 vs. CAR: L, 5-4 (Hamilton, 2:28)
Nov. 27 vs. CGY: L, 3-2 (Lindholm, 1:17)
Nov. 30 at TOR: L, 2-1 (Tavares, 1:45)
Dec. 7 at VAN: L, 6-5 (Miller, 3:21)
Dec. 8 at EDM: W, 3-2 (Miller, 1:13)
Dec. 14 at NYI: L, 3-2 (Beauvillier, 3:04)
Jan. 2 vs. EDM: W, 3-2 (Eichel, 1:09)
Feb. 1 vs. CBJ: W, 2-1 (Eichel, 0:36)

SHOOTOUT RESULTS (1-2; 76-71 all-time)
Oct. 11 vs. FLA: W, 3-2 (GDG-Eichel)
Oct. 28 vs. ARI: L, 3-2 (GDG-Schmaltz)
Feb. 6 vs. DET: L, 4-3 (GDG-Larkin)

MILESTONES APPROACHING (Player … Needs … Milestone)
Games Played
Henri Jokiharju … 8 games … 100 career games played
Jimmy Vesey … 10 games … 300 career games played
Scott Wilson … 10 games … 200 career games played

Jack Eichel … 7 assists … 200 career assists

Zach Bogosian … 6 points … 200 career points
Johan Larsson … 9 points … 100 career points 

Jonas Johansson … 1st NHL game … Feb. 4 vs. COL

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard and Jeremy (1/29/20)

January 29, 2020

Ralph Krueger

Howard & Jeremy (9 a.m.) (13:25)


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.

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard & Jeremy (11/13/19)

November 13, 2019
Ralph Krueger
Howard & Jeremy (8 a.m) (12:43)


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.