Author Archives: chrisdierken

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.

Jason Botterill media availability (10/22/19)

October 22, 2019

Jason Botterill

Media availability (10:30 a.m.)

Jason Botterill: I think our players have been very open to receiving that message. They’ve certainly put the time in during the summer to be prepared. I think the things we challenged them on last spring, they took it to heart. What I liked about the western road trip was our response after a loss. It wasn’t the prettiest game against L.A., but I thought Carter [Hutton] played outstanding, and I thought we came back with a strong effort afterwards. Through the course of the next couple months here, we know we’re going to face adversity, it’s how we handle it. Right now we’re feeling very good about our game.

What’s the impact of coaching here? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

JB: I think it’s a combination. I think certainly Ralph’s brought in, like I said, a clear message and has done a great job of communicating with our group at times one-on-one, at times in groups of three or five. But I also think our players, like I said, have been very open to it and they’ve been engaged with him since day one. You look at whether it’s our veteran players with our goaltender Carter Hutton or a player like Marcus Johansson coming into our group or young players such as [Rasmus] Dahlin or [Casey] Mittelstadt, they’re engaging with our coaching staff. It’s the start of the season. Although our record is our record, there’s a lot of mistakes all over the place out there. The fact that we had that dialogue, had that communication to rectify those I think is good. I think the focus right now continues to be, hey, how are we getting better each day as a team?

Do you think this group is better equipped to handle the adversity given an extra year of experience for a lot of guys even like Jack [Eichel] and the new faces, whether it be Marcus [Johansson] or Colin Miller? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)

JB: Look, over the course of 82 games you’re going to have adversity, 100 percent. I think our younger players are certainly more prepared for it because of going through it. A player like Rasmus Dahlin or Casey Mittelstadt, you can talk to them about the NHL grind and what it is and how the level of intensity increases in the second half of the season and what you have to do to have success. But until you go through that entire process, you truly don’t know. And I think our veteran players who’ve been around for four or five years saw last year certainly what equates to success but then how if you lose those things and you lose details in your game, how that success can go away. And then the players that we’ve tried to bring in I think have been a really calming influence so far. I think the players that have been through playoff series and have had success have a calmness to them and they’ve certainly shown that. What we’ve tried to do, we’ve brought it up before, is the course of over 82 games we’re going to need everyone. We’re going to need more depth. We’ve tried to add that to our group here, and hopefully that allows us to prepare and get through adverse situations. And I think you saw that on the road trip there that we had scoring from a lot of different lines. Carter Hutton obviously had the great game. We had good goaltending, but I thought our entire team contributed on the road trip.

Is there any fear that Zach Bogosian may not play this season? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

JB: In my mind there’s zero fear from that standpoint. He’s back skating here right now. Very excited for where Zach is, and look, going over the type of procedure he had, it was a serious procedure. Zach is, he’s a powerful individual, so you want him to come back. It’s difficult for him right now because he wants to be back, especially once you get into games as a player, that energy, you want to get back out there, be a part of the group. But it’s also imperative for him, for not only for us this year, but for his career long term that we get this right. But from our standpoint, the fact that he’s back skating here right now is a good sign. I’m looking forward to it.

How good a problem do you have on defense and how difficult is it going to be when [Brandon] Montour is ready to play to decide what you’re going to do? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

JB: It’s a great problem that hopefully we have. Because there was talk a lot, I think, during the summer, ‘We have too many defensemen.’ You saw before games even started we ran into injury issues. I think as an organization we’re ecstatic about going over to Sweden. I think with so many Europeans on our team, the opportunity to compete in front of family and friends over there. Just being in that sort of environment for the league, and we’re very excited about it, but it really condenses our schedule when we come back and that’s where we’re going to need all these defensemen. But we’re happy the step that some of our defensemen have taken and especially I think Henri [Jokiharju] on the back end has come in and played even beyond our expectations so far.

Is there a sign, I know we’re only nine games in, of something that Ralph’s done where you can say, ‘You know what, last year that would’ve been different,’ or, ‘This guy’s playing somewhat differently,’ or, ‘He’s reacting differently’? Have you seen any kind of signs so far? (Michael Traikos – National Post)

JB: I think it’s just, look, when we do face adversity, you look at a game such as the L.A. game that wasn’t going the way we wanted it to, but we found a way to win the game. You look at in San Jose, the excitement of grabbing the 3-2 lead, they come back right away to score and make it 3-3. But then there’s not panic within our team. There’s a calmness about, ‘Hey, this is what we have to do to have success here.’ I even look back the previous game to, or a couple games last week, against Florida. I thought in the third period our game was all over the place, but then yeah they did score the goal in the last minute that we have to work on in a 6-on-5 situation, but I thought from about the eight-minute mark to right up to the last minute there, we did get back to our game and started playing with some structure in the defensive zone, playing the way we have to to protect a lead from that standpoint. Those types of things, I think, one, it’s a clear message, like I said, from Ralph, and it’s also our players understanding they have to play as a unit to have success.

And they trust whatever system they’re playing? Like you said, no panic? (Michael Traikos – National Post)

JB: Right now I think that there’s certainly trust from our player standpoint with their coaches. I think there’s dialogue on what works up there and that’s what’s been good. And it’s not only just Ralph. We’ve faced some adversity on our coaching staff with what’s happened with Donny Granato and with Chris Taylor coming back up there. The interacting with our assistant coaches with our players right now is something that we’re excited about from a development standpoint.

How much of a factor is having a positive attitude around the room? Because Ralph, no matter what, is always playing it forward in a positive way. How much of a factor is that for these guys because it has been very negative over the years? (Joe Yerdon – The Athletic)

JB: I think he’s certainly, and I think Ralph will tell you too, he brings a positive attitude and excitement. I think you can see he certainly loves his job right now and he loves being back behind the bench. But he’s also very truthful with these guys. And when things aren’t going the right way or when he sees something in practice or in the game that’s not being done to our standards, he’s going to correct it. And I think that, just that way he’s communicating with the players has gone over very well with the players and it’s been a good relationship for them. But, as a whole, yeah, it’s been a positive start. We were very excited about our home opener, just having the captains back, having the excitement in the building and now it’s up to us to keep that going.

You were furious two years ago when you only won 11 games [at home]. You could go 5-0 tonight. How significant is it to this team and Ralph is taking to having this as a tough building to play in? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

JB: Well look, it’s something that Ralph has talked a lot about, about look, the results aren’t always going to be there, but the effort has to be there. I must say, I enjoyed our Kids Game against Dallas a little bit more last Monday and I thought that was a great game of just our entire team playing well. But this league is so difficult and especially, as we talked about, their schedule what’s going to happen when we come back from Europe there, we have to have an opportunity to capitalize and win our games at home. And I know our players feed off the energy from our fans and hopefully we’ll continue to give them that same effort.

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard & Jeremy (10/14/19)

October 14, 2019

Ralph Krueger

Howard and Jeremy (9 a.m.) (13:58)

Howard Simon: Ralph, it’s Howard and Jeremy. Good morning, welcome to the show.

Ralph Krueger: Yes, good morning. Happy Columbus Day to Buffalo and to your listeners.

HS: So listen, I saw you guys had a day off on Saturday. I saw a little clip yesterday, apparently you said you spent the day shopping and going to a movie. What movie did we see on Saturday on our day off?

RK: I went to go see Judy with Reese Witherspoon. Quite amazing, the acting performance and also the storyline on really the tragedy around Judy Garland’s life. My wife and I enjoyed it. It should be an Academy Award.

Jeremy White: Did you get popcorn?

RK: [laughs] We didn’t originally and then sitting watching the pre-show, my wife goes, ‘Ah, come on.’ So we had some popcorn, yeah.

HS: So, your hockey team has at least a point in each of its first five games. In general, at this point, how do you think they’re playing right now?

RK: The character has been outstanding. It’s a big ask what we’ve been through in training camp on the tactical side and the principles and values that we’re driving for as a team are definitely based on you needing to work hard and to work for your teammates and we’re seeing a lot of that. We’re pleased, but we’re keeping the picture small. We had a goal this year to try and improve every single day and I take it one day at a time and this is what we continue to do, but from a coaching perspective we’re extremely pleased with the way the group is attempting to perform. We still have a lot of growth in us, which is also very exciting.

HS: When it comes to learning every day, Ralph, you probably have a list of things you’d like the team to get better at, a number of different things. How do go about, do you have a point of emphasis or two this week at one practice and then a different one another, how do you go about going down a checklist of a multitude of items to get better at and not throw too much at them at one time?

RK: Well, usually more on the non-gamedays, so yesterday would have been a day of learning and teaching. Maybe the last one before that was six days before where we really looked deep at some things that we’re doing. Gamedays we like to leave the minds free, concentrate on what we need to do, introduce the opposition in different aspects, but it’s more on the non-gamedays. As an example, on a trip like this to California where we are going to be packing bags and moving around in three games in four days, we’ll keep it simple and trust their instincts as they grow and develop. It’s very important to manage the energy in the National Hockey League season with the pace that we’re on and we’re trying to do our best with that as coaches.

HS: Last couple games your team has not been able to hold onto two-goal leads in the third period. Do you feel that the team was sitting back too much? Do you think there is a certain, I don’t want to say lack of killer instinct, but do you think they needed to attack more with the lead in the third period?

RK: No, not at all. We’re definitely continuing to play on our toes. There’s no mandate to sit back ever. In this league, there is no lead that’s safe. The strength of the opposition’s forwards and the way the D are involved, you’re seeing this on a nightly basis in the NHL, which makes it quite exciting. Now, we definitely aren’t happy with giving up two-goal leads and we’re going to get better with that and manage it in a more responsible way. Of course we were pleased the team dug out the two points in the end, but not pleased with giving up leads. But the mandate to stay on our toes and play forward and to attack is definitely there and the players did try to do that. We had chances in both of those games to extend the lead where we missed, we came up against some very good goaltending, as others are doing with us. That’s the nature of the beast right now. Everybody’s really playing a very attractive style, it’s an open league, lots of goals being scored, I think it’s what the fans want, and if we can end up on the two-point side of that more often as we have, we have to remain humble and happy.

JW: It seems like you’re kind of leaning toward experience and older players later in games in those two spots. Whether it’s Victor Olofsson off of a line late in the third periods or Rasmus Dahlin on Friday was a big story after the game, lot of people asking, wondering about Dahlin being on the bench for eight minutes-plus in that third period.

RK: There’s absolutely nothing against those players in those situations. It’s a compliment to other players we have and to the depth of the team. We’ve got different roles within our lineup, players that are going to carry the penalty kill or going to work in closing games out for us. If we need goals, others will carry the ball and that’s what a team is made of is different strengths and different roles and different characters. The focus on what isn’t often leaves out the conversation of what is. And what is we have a very strong, we have a lot of depth in our lineup and we have a lot of players that are specialized in different skill sets. As much as goal-scoring is a skill set, killing penalties, blocking shots, finishing hits — those are important skill sets in a good team and I think it’s also an education of our fan base and of the public to understand that that will change the ice time depending on the score. Rasmus is learning and growing every day. He is very coachable player, we love what he’s doing on and off the ice. There’s nothing but excitement about his future here.

JW: Ralph, it would be interesting to hear your feeling, as you mentioned, shot blocking, shot blocking is one thing in that the last however many years in the NHL, people kind of given a thumbs up and also a thumbs down. If you’re blocking shots, it’s good to block a shot, but if you’re blocking a lot of shots it means you’re on the ice when the other team has the puck and is shooting it. With regard to that, the give and take of what that actually means, the ability to block a shot is important, but late in a game, would you not want your defense to not be blocking so many because you’d be carrying play in the other end?

RK: Well there’s no question that once the goalie’s out of the other team, you’re killing a penalty, because you’re playing 5-on-6 as an example. There it’s really important to be able to understand the patience that’s needed. For instance, in the last game, we just tried too hard. The guys battled like crazy and it was a little bit chaotic and there was a couple of broken plays and broken sticks and so on. But you need to stay in the lanes whenever you are killing penalties or you’re shorthanded. It’s really important to have that courage and especially up high, getting into the lanes. Everything coming from up high, nowadays it has a danger to it, it creates second chances in front of the net, it creates chaos that we’re trying to avoid in our end. You know, I think all through the league that’s definitely a skill set. We do attack more in our end than some teams sag right down back and rely completely on the shot blocking, where as we do expand and attack when we can. It depends on the situation, really.

JW: I’ve noticed much of the attacking on the kill this year as compared to previous years for the Sabres. With regard to Rasmus Dahlin, last year, his rookie year, he impresses a lot of people, this year — year two — maybe, myself included, we kind of expected him to just take off. When it comes to player development with him, are you very much keenly aware of the idea that he’s so young, that you’re still building a lot of what it is that he’s going to become?

RK: Look at Rasmus Dahlin at 19 and Henri Jokiharju at 20, the potential within both of those is so exciting. With Rasmus, players of that skill set are playing with the puck all the time when they’re young. They’re so strong and so powerful, it’s learning the complete game is what’s happened to every great defenseman in the National Hockey League as they mature. Again, I can only say that we are so thrilled with the foundation of what he is and who he is as a person and it takes time. It’s easier to come into the league as a high-end offensively skilled forward because the responsibility without the puck isn’t as large as it is when you play defense, especially in a league that plays with six defensemen all the time. You know, very rarely, Tampa plays with seven once in a while. Defensemen need to be all encompassing, they need to play with the puck, without the puck. It’s, again, something that we just need to be patient before a player with that skill set is complete. It just takes time and everything is on the right track for sure.

HS: With Rasmus and I guess with Jokiharju as well, Ralph, when you have that type of young player with those offensive skills, what is the message you give them? How do you balance the line between I want you to be creative, I want you to be aggressive, but you don’t necessarily want to go 1-on-3 in the neutral zone, turn the puck over, you want to be smart too — how do you get that message across to those young guys? You don’t want to stifle their creativity, but you know, they have to be smart too.

RK: Those are just team rules. That doesn’t apply to one player, that applies to our most experienced player or our youngest player. We just have a lot of team concepts and principles that we’re trying to turn into habits. It’s going to take time. We’re working hard at it, and the players are really, really all-in here. We’re having pleasure working with the group and whether it’s Rasmus or whether it’s Sobotka, it doesn’t matter. Everybody’s trying to get in line with what gives us a chance to be the best team we can be on a daily basis and what gives us a chance to win every night and being responsible with the puck is definitely one of the — the puck management is one of the most important things in a league where every team has so many lethal players. You need to understand where the risks are worth taking and where not.

HS: One last thing I want to ask you, Ralph, about Casey Mittelstadt, got a nice shootout goal the other day. What are you seeing from him so far? Again, I know it’s really early, but you’ve talked about the stress on centers in your system with your principles. He’s still going through that growth process in the NHL, what’s your evaluation that you’re seeing so far from Casey?

RK: Well, Casey is also a player who’s evolving his game. We have a fundamental skill set in him that’s unique and it’s really exciting. He’s got so much potential and, again, an excellent character, very hardworking and just developing everyday. Every day there’s something new and something good going on with Casey Mittelstadt and the coaches are all doing their bit to help him to develop and to help him grow. He’s somebody we can be really excited about. You know, the way he hadn’t played for a while in the last game and stepped into the overtime and created more chances, actually, than anybody else and then quite coolly sunk the third penalty shot goal for the win is just a sign of the top-end of Casey and just like a player that we just spoken about, like Rasmus, there’s a game away from the puck, there’s a pressure coming from the top lines of the other team that pushes you back into your own end that you have to learn to deal with and have to learn to manage and it’s that side of the puck that’s why we have coaches, why we have jobs, I guess, the skill on the offense is more difficult to teach than the game away from the puck. We’re so pleased that he has that foundation and what makes the exciting future he has.

HS: Well thanks again for the time, Ralph, appreciate you coming on a little bit earlier this week with the trip coming up. Good luck against the Dallas Stars, good luck out west and we’ll talk to you next week.

RK: Thanks, and I wish everyone a wonderful Columbus Day.

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard & Jeremy (10/9/19)

October 9, 2019

Ralph Krueger

Howard & Jeremy (8 a.m.) (13:15)

Howard Simon: Ralph, it’s Howard and Jeremy. Good morning. How are you today, sir?

Ralph Krueger: I’m very good, thank you. Good morning to you Howard and Jeremy and to all your listeners.

HS: I wanted to start off our conversation with something you talked about yesterday. The process that you’re in, this deep process of, you know, the players learning your principles and all the teaching you guys are doing. I don’t mean for you to tell me, “Yeah Howard, by game 16 it’ll be in place.” But what is that process like? How involved in that and how are they coming along as you observe it as the head coach of this team?

RK: Well we really went through training camp in a heavy teaching process where we were splitting sessions in half so we could teach between, after 30 minutes, go back on the ice, and now we’re just deep in the core principles and the concepts. Every game is an opportunity for us to learn from, and we’ll be doing that right through the season. As a coach, you don’t really know exactly which direction the group’s going to need direction in or where we can improve on. It’s just been so much fun working with the guys because of their involvement and their interest to actually learn and grow. Yesterday we did some very good sessions where we could take things out of the Columbus game that should make us a better team tonight. That process, to tell you the truth, will probably never end because we’re always going to be looking for improvement. That’s our motto right now, ‘keep the picture small.’ Get ready for Montreal today and think of nothing else but trying to be better tonight than we were last game.

HS: How does the process work when you’re in a pretty hectic part of the schedule – I think it’s 13 games in the first 26 days. With that much activity in terms of games, maybe is it tougher to work on all these things in practice when you’re playing basically every other day?

RK: We’re doing most of the learning off of the ice. It’s video sessions that are quick and short and to the point. We have footage now that we can use and discuss, and we’re making sure the players have a voice in the process so we can understand what they’re thinking and how they’re processing everything. They’re used to the way we’re doing it. The practices are short and sweet. Yesterday we had 30 minutes, and we will be leaving out the pregame skate today to gather energy because of the three in six we have at home now. We want to keep our energy high for what the games will demand. It’s more off the ice really, Howard, that we are doing our work right now.

HS: In terms of teaching this team and all the things you’re going through, one of the things I was curious about you said ‘dialogue,’ ‘an open dialogue.’ The players can certainly ask you a question about a principle you’re teaching, but do they come up with suggestions? And if they do, do you listen to them as a coaching staff? Like, ‘Hey, that’s a good idea. Let’s try this.’

RK: Well more than anything, they’ve really bought into what we are, as coaches, working on and the way we want to go. The players are all in on that. And that hasn’t really been negotiable. It’s been something, through all the conversations in the summer with the players, I was able to feel what the good things were in the past to take with and where the opportunity was. So we had those conversations and that dialogue in the summer before we set the direction. All I can say is the players have been all in. Where you’re going to end up with more individual skills and conversations would be in conversations, especially around the power play. We have so much skill there and we’re working together. It’s a little more strategic as far as tactically you can make adjustments game to game and within the five-man unit what you can do. In the five-on-five game it’s really only about getting it right and trying to be consistent, which we lost a little bit of that in the first period against Columbus. We found our way again through the game and were able to dig a point out, which I was happy to see that. We’re still far from the finished product which is also exciting from a coaching viewpoint.

HS: A year ago this time, of course you weren’t here, we were going through the excitement of getting to watch Rasmus Dahlin in year one as a Buffalo Sabre. Again, since you just got here this season, in a limited amount of time going back to the preseason, through the practices, through the games, through the first three games, what are some of the things you’ve learned about Dahlin and his skill set now that you’ve been around him on a regular basis?

RK: Well first of all, like so many of the players, it’s been exciting to get to know them as people and as Buffalo Sabres. We have done an excellent job in recruiting good people, so that’s number one. He’s very coachable and the skills that lie within him and the potential of him is exciting for all of us. We see the offensive ability that’s there. He will be, with his deception, somebody who will continually excite. It’s also what he’s working on away from the puck and how he wants to participate in our team concept on the defense and how we need to keep the chances to a minimum to have a chance to win every night. We’re excited about how hard he’s working there. For the fans, they love to see the puck time on a Rasmus, that’s why we’re here as coaches to work on that time when we don’t have the puck and how can get it back. On both sides he’s been just a pleasure to work with. What an exciting future he has.

Jeremy White: [Dahlin’s] also got pretty big games coming up. The return to Sweden, I would imagine, he would be really excited for that, for the Global Series coming up.

RK: Yeah, we have five Swedes in our lineup and they’re all really excited about our two games against Tamp Bay at the beginning of November. We haven’t spoken about it that much because, as I’ve already mentioned, I don’t want to repeat it too often, but we’re trying to keep everything really really tight and small and just take care of today, whatever it’s asking. Sweden is hanging in the air. We had organizational and management meetings about that for a few hours yesterday. Jason Botterill called us all together. That’s going to be a wonderful trip, and any Sabres fans that can participate in that or experience Stockholm that time of year against Tamp Bay. Our Swedes, especially, will certainly be flying. Lots of tickets needed there.

JW: Having spent a lot of time internationally, Ralph, with regard to American sports fans have watched the NFL go abroad for a little bit, Mexico City, London, the NBA embroiled in the China thing currently. We’ve seen American sports kind of go outside of the continental U.S. When it comes to the NHL and its reception over there, what have you seen or what do you know about it? How much it means to whether it’s Swedish fans or Germany, the Sabres played in Germany a couple years back. We’ve just seen on and on the leagues continue to seem to want to do this. How much does it mean to people of those countries when the NHL comes in?

RK: It’s like the World Cup of Hockey, World Cup of Football, if you look at how fans look up to that, or the European Championships. The NHL in Europe at any time is the maximum for a hockey fan. They all plan their trips over here to see teams play. The NHL’s followed on a daily basis by all hockey fans in Europe. During the international break, all the leagues break in that exact weekend when we’re there. We will be the spotlight of all of European hockey on the television over there, and/or the people that can come live. It’s a very big event. And again, it’s Super Bowl-like for the actual hockey fans that are able to be a part of it.

HS: I’m trying to help you out here Ralph, for the first game in Sweden, to start an all-Swedish unit, but that means one of your forwards has to be on defense, right?

RK: Yeah, we would need to do that. We will have some fun around that to try to get the Swedes into a good position. Once again, also let’s remember we’ve got Fins we’ve got a Latvian, we’ve got a Czech, and all of them will have followers coming. It’s only an hour flight for all those countries to come into Stockholm. For all of the Europeans, the 10 that we have in the lineup, they’re all quite excited to be going over for that trip.

HS: The other thing I wanted to ask you about before we let you go is Casey Mittelstadt. A young center, trying to find his way coming off of his first full season, which had its ups and downs. What was your message or is your message to a young guy like that? You’ve talked about how in your system, it puts a lot of pressure on the player at center, the man in the middle. So what have you told Casey to try and help his development this season?

RK: Well that’s where Don Granato and now Chris Taylor at the moment filling in are working hard with him on the individual tactics that we need and the technique. To be able to defend in your own end at the speed and the pace of the National Hockey League today is a lot of hard work for the centerman. It sounds like a broken record, but very coachable young man who wants to get better every day. We all know how exciting his offensive upside is. We’re going to continue to let that grow and we’re going to find spaces where he can use it. Without the puck is where you need to be able to play, if we go on the road and you’re up against the top line of the other team, how can you defend? He’s doing really well in his development there. It’s more about our defensive concept. If we want a chance to win every night here in the National Hockey League. As the top teams develop and get warmed up into the season, we’re going to have to be able to defend every night to give ourselves a real chance. we aren’t a team that wants to get into run-and-gun shootouts. We want to have some control over things, and that’s where young players like Casey totally understand that need and are working hard at getting better. It’s the defensive side of the team that I’m so proud about so far. After three games this season and how little we’ve allowed in Pittsburgh, against New Jersey and even in Columbus the other day, they only had 11 or 12 five-on-five really good scoring chances against us in a game where we weren’t happy. Players like Casey are chipping in and working at that. I believe we have the offense to ignite up front if we can take care of our end first.

JW: We’ve got to let you go, it’s a game day. One of these weeks I want to talk to you about the Premier League. Going to want to talk some soccer at some point.

RK: We can have a soccer talk. It’s sure good to be back in hockey.

JW: Any truth to my theory that there are no morning skates because soccer is on early in the morning and it gives you a chance to maybe watch some games. Just saying, it fits into the schedule nicely for you.

RK: I have to tell you, honestly, the Premier League players don’t move the whole day and it was something I really looked with our sports science department at. And also, when I was over in the UK, about how the players prepared for their evening games and how little energy the exerted on game days. You make a joke out of it, but it’s not about watching the football.

JW: That is interesting. I know they do so much with player tracking over there, 90-minute games when you don’t have any substitutions or line changes, the tracking of how far you run. Just the lengths that that’s gone to is really fascinating. 

RK: We’re doing a lot of that here. One of the things that really surprised me positively coming into Buffalo was how excellent the staff was put together already. I walked into a fully functioning high-performance machine here, which has really helped to launch everything in the right direction. We’re very, very advanced here in our sport science and how we use it and how we’re tracking the energy of the players, which is going to be important here as you already mentioned. I think we’ve got like 11 in the next 20 days or something where you really have to manage your energy.

HS: Again, thanks for your time with us this morning, Ralph, good luck tonight against the Canadiens.

RK: Ok, all the best to the listeners and let’s go Sabres.