Category Archives: Transcript

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard and Jeremy (2/20/20)

February 20, 2020


Ralph Krueger

Howard and Jeremy (8:30 a.m.) (15:48)


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

Ralph Krueger: Good morning, good morning. Back at ‘er. We’re good, we’re good here, thank you.


HS: We had Marty Biron on, on the last segment, Ralph. We had a long conversation about Jeff Skinner. So let me start from there. We talked about his drought and line combinations last week, so I guess one thing we’re curious about now, in terms of Jeff’s effort, is it still there or do you believe his game has dropped? He’s having some issues; maybe the weight of the drought is now affecting him in his on-ice performance?

RK: That seems to be a topic that you like to discuss. There are always different levels of solutions that go on here. When a player is looking for his best game, you go through video, you go through the psychology of it, you go through multiple levels of teaching and coaching. We’re doing this with multiple players at the same time; that’s what coaching staffs do and that’s what we do. We try to improve as a team every day. Some of the buttons we try to push, we speak about, and some of them we keep internal. There’s no question that everybody’s working hard at trying to find the right solution. It always has to happen in combination with what’s best for the team. The scoring chances are there. When his shooting percentage is down, it’s four percent from a career average, you try to work on why is that? What are the better ways to do it? For us, it’s just continued hard work at solutions. That’s what we do as a team, whether PP’s not working, whether we’re taking goals on the rush, or whether and individual player’s not producing to the numbers he’d like to, you try to work with them on pathways that they can get there. That’s what we’re doing with Jeff.


HS: I know you talk a lot with — not just Jeff, but any player on your roster — about how they play away from the puck and how that is a very important thing you look for as a coach. In particular with Jeff in this instance, how is he doing? I know you said you break down video with everybody. What is he doing in terms of play away from the puck and how would that affect maybe an overall performance in your eyes?

RK: Well I have never, and I will not discuss individual tactic in the public. That’s not something I do on any other player, so I’m not going to do it around Jeff. Of course, when a player is not producing, nobody’s happy. The player’s not happy, we’re not happy, and we’re trying to find the solutions and we work hard at it. There are internal things and analyses that, in respect of what we do here to try to make the whole as powerful as possible, we need to keep inside. We keep it inside. I enjoy every day that I coach the Buffalo Sabres. It’s always a challenge. I enjoy the individual challenges. I enjoy the team challenge, as the whole staff here does. A lot of the work we do stays internal, and on this one it stays right there.


HS: Sixty games into your first season, in terms of the overall performance of your team, are they playing the game the way you want them to play? Are you seeing it more consistently? I guess I’m asking you how much work still needs to be done to get to where you’d like them to be.

RK: I think everybody know we’ve won four of our last five games, or had points in five of the last six games, so we definitely have had streaky moments, through the season, of success. And we’ve had moments where we would like to have had more points and needed to get more to be in the position that we’d like to be in right now, which we’re not. We’re not happy with where we’re at right now and we’re fighting to keep contact. We’ve got opportunity here, if we can get points in five of the next six again to edge closer to where we want to be. But overall, we’re pleased with the group’s engagement in attempting to learn the game that we need to play on a consistent basis. Are these habits 100 percent ingrained already? No. Are they working hard to have these habits part of our normal execution? Yes. Again, we have gone through a good phase here. We’ve got some bodies back now. We’re really, really not pleased with what happened in Ottawa the other night. We have a chance to react now against Pittsburgh on Saturday. We do and that’s what we’re going to work towards, to get another good phase going, another good streak going here because we’re going to need a few of those in the next few games. But overall, we love the work of the players. We love the engagement of the players. And the understanding of the kind of game we need to play, I think, is quite clear and it’s just the mental strength and the ability to do it on a daily basis in the National Hockey League takes time. We feel much more good than bad right now.


Jeremy White: Ralph, going back to the previous conversation a little bit, not specifically about Jeff Skinner, but about your top two lines and your efforts to find goal scoring. One of things we talked about with Marty there was that when it comes to your scoring forwards, you do have three pretty good scoring forwards on one line in [Sam] Reinhart, [Jack] Eichel and [Victor] Olofsson. Jeff is a little bit odd man out with that. With regard to Sam Reinhart, Jason Botterill has said on this station before, he believes Reinhart can drive his own line. Have you and Jason talked about that? About the idea of maybe Reinhart gets a chance to do that, because if you’re looking for scoring from two lines, I think most would say anybody can be productive with Jack Eichel, for the most part, maybe not anybody, but Reinhart’s an important part of that. Have you thought about Reinhart getting a look at trying to drive things the way that Jack drives a line?


RK: First of all, definitely not anybody can be productive anywhere in the National Hockey League. You need synergies. The Eichel-Reinhart-Olofsson line is one of the elite five lines, for me, in the National Hockey League. We’ve got an unbelievable asset there with Victor Olofsson back scoring three goals in his first two games back off of a one-month injury. He has synergy there. Sam having a career season, Jack having a career season, there’s no question that you do not take something that powerful and throw it away. It’s something that we can build a future on. These players are 24 and younger and that’s exciting for us. What we need is we need secondary scoring like the elite teams in the NHL have that ability. We need to find a way to create some power in behind that line and that’s what we’re working on. There’s definitely arguments to look at different formations when we’re not in a playoff position, which everybody out there is reaching for and wants us to be, but we also have to see the powerful nature of that line and their 20-plus minutes on the ice together and what that gives us. We have enough skill in our other forwards to get something going and we’re working on that as hard as we can right now.


HS: I know you think we’re going to belabor the Skinner point, and we brought it with you last week, but the power of the line…

RK: Now why would I think that?

HS: [Laughs] Because we brought this up last week.

JW: I was off last week.

HS: You mention the power that you have, right. Because I asked you last week about maybe moving Reinhart, you basically said the same thing, “Why would I want to break it up?” But now I’m going to factor in the third guy: With Olofsson, Ralph, Skinner with Eichel was a powerful thing. Jeff Skinner had his highest season in goals, I know you weren’t here, but he had a career high in goals. So that was a powerful combination.

RK: And you were happy with the team’s results last year?

HS: Well I’m not happy with the team’s results this year. You’re probably not making the playoffs, Ralph. No offense. You have a guy that’s making a lot of money to score goals and is having a career-worst year, would Olofsson as good? Is he talented enough to say, “Okay, let me flip it. Olfosson’s okay away from Eichel. He can succeed. It’s not a matter of ‘he’s only scoring because he’s with Eichel, he would be talented enough if I moved him away'”?

RK: We can philosophically discuss this. We spend four hours every morning before even before even the players arrive at the rink here as coaches looking at footage and analyzing everything in and out. We don’t have time to discuss all of those experiences with everybody. Somewhere there needs to be a trust in what we see and how we’re doing out best here to try to maximize what we can do as a group. Again, I want to refer to the run of late and the energy that we have. The Ottawa game definitely dampened the spirit in the surroundings, but we need to take courage from what we did against Toronto here at home and games of that nature and how the game that we want to play on a consistent basis showed up there to neutralize one of the best offensive teams in the league. We can discuss — there’d be hundreds of different decisions that we make here that we can try to tear apart in detail, and the way we put our lines together is certainly one of them. It’s difficult to explain all those details and I can only say we are trying to maximize the potential of this group. We are not there as yet. We will continue to work on that.


JW: One thing in terms of maximizing results, Ralph, I think something that’s gone very well I think: Early in the year, Rasmus Dahlin had a little bit of a — maybe a sophomore hiccup. I think fans observing him wondered, “Is Dahlin struggling?” There was a little bit of time and then he kind of figured it out. I would say he’s playing pretty well, he’s pretty darn good. He’s been great. For you, you look at a player, you’re only getting your hands on any player so far with this organization for 60 games. You talk a lot about habits, and positive habits. With Dahlin, is that an example you would say where you tried to instill some habits in him and it took a little bit of time but then, boom, it clicked and you’re seeing the positive results of that?

RK: Rasmus has been a pleasure all season long. We see the brilliance of his offensive ability, but for us as coaches, we’re so excited how he’s embraced what he needs to do defensively and how hard he works at creating pressure on the opposition without the puck and how proud he is of his one-on-one battles and he wants to win those. Steve Smith has done an unbelievable job of coaching him in individual sessions and while he was injured, spending a lot of time with him going over video and footage. He is, as a 19-year-old, simply an amazing player. His future, he’s still far from his potential. When he fills out physically and we get some more pounds on him as he just naturally will grow and he gets that strength, the sky’s the limit on him. We can all see what he does to the power play and how he’s able to manage the puck up top there at his age; where is that going to end? His shot will become harder, his physical play will become more aggressive and his offense will just continue to find opportunity for the players that he’s on the ice with. We’re extremely excited about how Rasmus is developing here.


JW: The other big story, the trade deadline is approaching. You talked about synergy and how important it is. For you and Jason Botterill, the synergy that the two of you have, do you ask for things at the deadline? Like, “Hey, I’d like a this or a that”? Do you guys talk every single day, especially in these days approaching where roster decisions are probably, I would think, some roster decisions are going to come; maybe big, maybe small.

RK: That always looms in the air in the National Hockey League since the beginning of the season. Of course we’re discussing everything daily. That process is very interesting; it’s a lot of fun. We are always looking at potential options that can make us a stronger team. Yes, we feel that in the air but in the coaching room here, I have to tell you, we are fighting to still make something special out of this season. We haven’t given up on anything that we’re doing here. Our picture remains small in the coaching room and with the players, but with Jason, of course, I drift into the bigger picture on a regular basis. We will continue to try to improve the roster if we can and to build the group that can get us to where we want to go in the future. But it’s kind of a mix in the coaching world; you have to leave that hat outside the room when you walk in with the players. When you leave that space you get into those discussions. We’ll see what the week brings. It will be an interesting week, I think, throughout the league. But for us specifically, we’d like to get stronger.


HS: Hey, Ralph, last thing on the trade deadline, since this is our first deadline with you as the coach of the Sabres: Stuff is out there on social media, I don’t know how many players go on Twitter, stay off Twitter this time of year. Names get mentioned in the rumor mill. How do you handle that as a coach? Do you talk to a particular player or players if you hear names in the rumor mill to make sure they’re staying focused?

RK: No, I think the most important thing is to have them feel our focus on execution, learning, growing like we’ve been trying to do here daily. We don’t discuss those situations. The NHL players are aware that that’s always in the air. Players that don’t have the no-trade, no-move clauses realize that that could happen to them at any point in time. You basically try to concentrate on the task on hand, which today is going to be a good practice and some learning out of the Ottawa game. Tomorrow, the preparation for Pittsburgh and the 1:00 start on Saturday. We do not see those as anything other than part of the normal life of a National Hockey League player. But it’s not really discussed, and we try to keep that noise out of our locker room.


HS: Thanks as always for your time. Thanks for answering our questions and we’ll talk to you again next week. Good luck this weekend against Pittsburgh and Winnipeg.

RK: Thank you to the fans for the last three home games. Those three wins were outstanding and [I] really, really enjoyed the energy in the building. We’ll bring some good energy back from Pittsburgh for a good game against Winnipeg, my hometown, where I was born actually, on Sunday. So it’ll be a fun one.

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard and Jeremy (2/12/20)

February 12, 2020


Ralph Krueger

Howard and Jeremy (8:30 a.m.) (17:47)


Howard Simon: Ralph, it’s Howard and Brayton. Good morning. Welcome to the show. Happy Wednesday, sir.

Ralph Krueger: Good morning, Howard. How are you?

HS: Good, I had to stop and make sure it was Wednesday, actually, because I hate wishing someone a happy wrong day. So, yeah, it is.

RK: Wednesday it is.


HS: So, listen, there are a number of players I want to ask you about, but in terms of the game, let me get a couple things in from last night. I’m not sure you could’ve started off worse than giving up a goal on your first shift. So, I guess, talk about how important it was to get the goal back on the next shift of the game.

RK: Overall, the storyline, we did make it tough on ourselves. We really had that difficult start, but you can see, there is a maturity in our group developing where we’re quite calm in those situations. It was good to get it back that quickly. We went down again [the] next period, dug ourselves out and then won the third, which was very important. We were tested last night, but I liked the resiliency of the group. The defensive structure was solid. Detroit had some fresh bodies coming back into the lineup, like (Anthony) Mantha and (Frans) Nielsen, (Mike) Green. They had some more offensive power than a week ago. We neutralized that, got the win. Overall, a good night. Our fans were fantastic last night too.


HS: What did you see that you liked from the line of (Marcus) Johansson, (Curtis) Lazar and (Conor) Sheary?

RK: Well it was interesting to move Johansson onto the wing and free him from his defensive responsibility. Curtis Lazar’s been a solid player for us in both directions, leading in our penalty killing group and winning big faceoffs and (Lazar) just kind of gives Johansson a bit of freedom. Conor Sheary and Johansson seem to have a little bit of synergy. We watched them, there’s some chemistry there and we saw that especially on the first goal and Johansson scoring the second goal was important for his confidence at the moment. Overall, a line that was good in both directions, able to play up against (Dylan) Larkin, their top line on multiple occasions. Yeah, we liked the look of that and we’ll probably giving it another look tomorrow.


HS: I can never remember “Jo-hansson,” “Yo-hansson.” Both of them are “Yo-hanssons,” Ralph?

RK: Yeah, don’t forget that I’ve been living in Europe most of my life. Over there we would say “Yo-hansson,” here people say “Jo-hansson.” I think it’s fine for the guys as long as we say their name.


HS: With Johansson, after the game you talked about how you thought he played a little more freely because he didn’t have to worry about the center responsibilities. He talked about feeling comfortable on the wing. For the time being, will you keep him there?

RK: It’s always something within the game, depending on how it’s going, if we want to push for offense, we can always move him there. It’s good to have that option, but at the moment, barring any injuries up the middle, we’d like to try and keep him there and let him evolve. We need more depth offensively with offense with (Victor) Olofsson and (Kyle) Okposo on the verge of returning, we’re expecting to be a more formidable offensive team, so hopefully Johansson on the wing gives us that power too.


HS: Is Lazar now, as you look down the middle on the depth chart, is Lazar now, you think, now your best option after [Jack] Eichel?

RK: We really just don’t rate things that way. If you look at what the Larsson line’s done, playing up and down, depending on what we need. They often match up against the top line of the other team for the entire game. It really has to do with faceoff situations, has to do with the flow of the game, has to do with the way the line is playing up against the opposition. We really don’t think that way; one, two, three, four. Clearly, Jack’s line gets the majority of the ice team. We all know that Jack Eichel’s our leader, both on and off the ice. Otherwise, it’s really nice the way we played a four-line game yesterday. It’s very rare this season where we felt that strength right through the lineup. We really could’ve trusted anybody to play against Larkin and/or give us something offensively, as well as being responsible defensively yesterday. So that’s the way we’d like to go moving forward. The good teams in the league have that power.


HS: (Jeff) Skinner, the goal drought is now at 19 (games). It’s a career-high for him. He gets the odd shift every now and then with Jack Eichel and with Sam Reinhart. I know last time we were on with you, we brought up the idea of him on the No. 1 power play and he eventually got some time there, but he still hasn’t been able to score a goal. When it comes to Skinner and usage, Ralph, I know all the fans are wondering about it — we are too — why not just give him a full game, a shot with Eichel with Reinhart? Not just a shift, but say, “Okay, you’re going on their line and let’s see what happens.”

RK: We wake up every here growing the team, and we wake up every morning here doing what’s best for the team. We do not make decisions here based on individual needs, we base our decisions on the mixes and the chemistry and the lineup that we think is strongest for the Buffalo Sabres. That’s the way we work, and that’s the way we’re going to continue to work. When Jack’s playing up against the top lines and top D-pairs of the other team, we need other lines to be able to produce against the second and third pairs of the opposition. We do not make decision for individuals, quite clearly, here. Everything is about the team; everything is about the team game. That’s the way the Buffalo Sabres are going to be built moving forward and that’s the way we’re going to become competitive in the National Hockey League. We’re going to hold that line. We believe in it, we feel confident in it, the guys are embracing it. What we have to learn is to finish games better. We have to learn as a group to manage our specialty teams better. We’re excited about what’s going on here behind the closed doors. We understand people aren’t happy with the results, and they’d like to see us with six, seven, eight points more in the standings. But, again, it’s all about the team here, and we will continue to work in that way.


HS: Couldn’t you make a case though, if you got Skinner going and he started scoring, that is best for — not only best for him — but it is best for the team? You’re getting more goals.

RK: Oh yeah, he’s getting opportunity. He’s getting opportunity. He’s trying and he’s working on it. When he gets one, he’s a bunch scorer, he’ll get a bunch. But I appreciate your opinion.


HS: Yeah, well it’s frustrating. And I guess, the other thing was, I coupled this with Olofsson being out. When Olofsson was there — and I know earlier in the season you had talked about it — you want to get balance, you don’t want to be a one-line team. Olofsson was producing, so why screw around with that line; he’s doing well. With him out, (Zemgus) Girgensons got a shot, (Jimmy) Vesey’s now getting a shot, and I just thought, to try and get Skinner’s game right, you didn’t have to leave him there, but Ralph, I think anybody will succeed with Eichel and Reinhart. Get him up there, get him some confidence. He puts in a few goals, you move him back down, Olofsson goes back in, whatever, and then maybe you’ve got a consistent second line of scoring going.

RK: Yeah, I appreciate your opinion, Howard. That’s good to hear. Thanks.


HS: In terms of ice time for Eichel: what’d he have? 20 minutes or whatever it was against Anaheim. I think last night in the third period, I think you maybe double shifted that line early in the third period. But he only had 20 last night, so how do you balance out, “That is my best line. That’s the guys I want on the ice. But I can’t play them 28 minutes a night?”

RK: Again, we are truly trying to work in a small picture here. There are a lot of distractions and there are a lot of things pulling us, at times, in the wrong direction in and around our development. Everybody’s got a right to their opinion, and they’re going to fight against our process as long as the results aren’t exactly what everybody wants. It’s the same with the way we manage minutes during a game; we do what we feel is right to the game. Yesterday was a good four-line game going. Against Anaheim, we did not have a four-line game going, we needed to reduce our roster really quick. Jack was playing either side of timeouts. We’re going to always do, on the day, what we think is going to give us the best chance to win. There’s not a day where we’re not going to go after the W. This group’s got no quit in it. We appreciate the way the guys are always fighting back. We have fallen behind too much of late, and we need to work on getting some leads here in the next games. But Jack’s minutes aren’t planned before the game. He dictates that, often, and the game dictates that. That’s what makes it fun. It’s the greatest game to be coaching. I just love coaching the game of hockey where you are really, truly submersed in the moment. Where you submerse with a feeling of who’s on today and who’s off. Do I always get it right? No way. I’m going to make mistakes. I always have, I always will. They’re there because you try, and you risk, and you attempt to do things. Jack’s just been fantastic in the process, whether he plays 20 minutes or he plays 28, he’s going to give his best every single shift. He’s as hardworking as anybody on the team. What a leader he is moving forward it’s exciting what we have here for core players, for young players that are all in and Jack is definitely at the lead of all that.


HS: I want to ask you about Sam Reinhart, Ralph, in the discussion of always doing what’s best for the team. So, Reinhart, he scored again last night. He’s on pace for career high goals. He’s on pace for career high points. He’s having a tremendous season. Do you think — is he good enough to the bigger-picture discussion of driving his own line? If you put him — and on the wing too, not necessarily at center — if you took him away from Jack and said, “Okay, I need to get more scoring form my offense,” could Reinhart drive a line by himself?

RK: I mean, why would you break up that pair right now? They’re as good a duo as there is in the National Hockey League. The way the synergize, also defensively, we just don’t see that as an option at the moment. Sam Reinhart is a very complete athlete and player. He’s a leader in our group and you’ve got to love the season he’s having. He’s working for everything. The way he complements Jack is outstanding. On the other [wing] with Jack, it’s very important that you have an extremely strong two-way player who is able to free Jack and Sam from defensive responsibilities. Jimmy Vesey’s done an excellent job of that the last few games and that’s the way Jack, for us, needs to be complemented. Sam has just done a fabulous job. Both of them are having seasons that we would like them to bang in year in and year out and what we need is the next layer of scoring to come up closer to them. Right now, Sam’s doing everything we ask and there would be no reason to move him from where he is. 


HS: Couple other things, Ralph, before we let you go. One is about Lawrence Pilut. Scratched two of the last three games, a quick trip to Rochester and came back. I wanted to know, could you tell me the process, the thought process and what you go through weighing a youngster like that here — but not playing — versus is it better off for him to be in Rochester playing on a regular basis?

RK: The organization really does a good job of monitoring that. Jason Botterill, Randy Sexton, they’ve got a super feel and quite an experience with the development of players. I’m not nearly as experienced in those processes. I enjoy working together with them and how we manage these players, whether it’s the decisions that were made now around Casey Mittelstadt to make him the best possible player for the future for the club, or the way Curtis Lazar went up and down; the same is going on with Lawrence Pilut. We look at it every day. What’s best for him at the moment, we feel this experience of being in the group, practicing with the group, being in our meetings, feeling what it takes to compete in the National Hockey League in February, in March, in April; this is a different level that’s coming at us now. It’s learning to play good hockey at this time. He’s part of us, he’s here, he’s important for us and we feel comfortable with him jumping in at any time. But we do have to keep an eye on that, Howard. You’re right for sure. You don’t want him to go too long without playing any games at all. So it’s kind of a day-to-day basis. If we don’t need him in the next few games, yeah, he might play some games down in Rochester and then come back again. That’s where management has a good feel. If you look at the job that was done on Victor Olofsson, if you look at the job that’s being done right now on Casey (Mittelstadt), there’s different ways to get the potential out of a player. Lawrence has just been fantastic with us. He’s got a really professional attitude. He works hard on and off the ice. He brings a good spirit. Just adding to our depth on defense. You’ve got it right, we’ve got to make sure we get the right amount of games in too while he’s getting the experience parallel to that.


HS: I had an Olympic question for you before we let you go, but I also did forget injury updates, because you mentioned Okposo, you mentioned Olofsson and I guess also (Linus) Ullmark. What’s the latest on those three guys in terms of return to the ice for game situations?

RK: So Olofsson and Okposo joined us full on yesterday and will be full on in practice today, and they become day-to-day. They become day-to-day beginning today. Ullmark still has a few weeks though.


HS: The other thing I’m curious about, Ralph: I know you’re busy with the Sabres, I’m not sure if you’re following all this stuff that’s going on with the NHL and the Olympics and whether players are going to participate. You have extensive international tournament coaching experience — what are your thoughts on the idea of the NHL, I know it’s above your pay grade, shutting down the league and all that, but what about the idea of the NHL [sending it’s players to the Olympics]? I think the players are mostly in favor of it. I love it, I think the fans love it. What about the NHL and participation in the Olympics, from your perspective, having been there?

RK: Well I’ve been at four Olympic Games and if you see the experience that players make by going to the Olympic Games, it’s irreplaceable. It goes beyond the game of hockey. You become a part of something much bigger than your sport. To experience that with all the multi-levels of athletes from so many different nations in a true celebration of sports is an experience I wish every player would receive. Would I love to have Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart — leading players here — Dahlin, experience that kind of event? Yes, for sure. I think it makes them wiser and I think it’s an excellent experience. Now, I can’t make a decision on the business side and I would understand if it just doesn’t work for the National Hockey League, but I think it’s an experience that everybody that ever can be a part of needs to be able to have. So, yeah, I’m a big fan of the Olympic Games and what happens to athletes through that experience. It just deepens the journey. For me to be a part of Team Canada in 2014 and winning the gold medal, I know that every one of those players would treasure that experience as top of their career at the end. Hopefully we can find a solution there.


HS: Ralph, thanks for your time, thanks for coming on with us this morning and good luck tomorrow night against the Blue Jackets.

RK: Thank you very much, and really a big thank you to the fans. We’ve had a bit of a tough stretch of late. We got a lot of confidence out of the game yesterday against the Red Wings. We’re looking forward to a real good battle against Columbus tomorrow.

HS: We’ll talk to you next week, Ralph.

RK: Thank you.

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard and Jeremy (2/5/20)

February 5, 2020


Ralph Krueger

Howard & Jeremy (9 a.m.) (13:37)


Howard Simon: Ralph, it’s Howard and Jeremy. Good morning, thanks for coming on with us, first of all.

Ralph Krueger: Good morning, Howard and Jeremy.


HS: Ralph, (the score was) 2-1 after one [period] last night, and then the wheels fell off. What happened in the second period?

RK: Well there’s no question that we had 20 of the most disappointing minutes of our season from the 13th minute of the first period right through taking six goals in a 20-minute period is not acceptable. There were individual breakdowns right through it — we’re actually just going through it right now in the coaches room — lots of situations that we can learn from. Our frustration is there and we’re going to work with it and we’re going to do all we can to improve from this disappointment.


Jeremy White: Ralph, at different times of the season you’ve had different things that have hurt you. When it was the power play, you told us that when you’re seeing good things from it, when it’s operating well but it’s not scoring that’s not a major concern. Last night’s game, I think if you’re going back to the tape, the numbers would suggest that chances, high-danger chances, it was not a 6-1 blowout in that department. It was fairly even. Even inside of a 20-minute period where you say it might have been your worst 20 minutes of the season, it seemed to me that chances were even, it’s just that goals were going in on one end.

RK: Yeah, I mean we had a 13-13 shot clock at the halfway mark of the game and it was just every time they went down they were lethal. Colorado’s one of the better teams in the league and (if) you give them any spaces, they use it — and we certainly didn’t. We came out of the starting blocks with a 7-1 shot total and we didn’t have a goal to show for it, so it doesn’t mean anything, doesn’t help you if you don’t take advantage of a good start. Once they got that momentum going, it seems like — the 3-1 goal early in the second period we went way too high risk on our toes. We didn’t stay calm like we have been in the past with only being down two and trying patiently to get ourselves back into the game. We threw the whole house at them and gave up completely on our defensive game, and they punished us for it. It was just not the way we needed to manage the game. But again, the job of coaches is to get up in the morning, look for what we can do to strengthen ourselves. We’ve got no time to feel sorry for ourselves in the NHL. We all know we’re back at it against Detroit tomorrow and that’s what we have to do here.


HS: How much of a set back do you think was last night for Carter Hutton? He had gone through the losing streak and he’s trying to get his confidence back, get a couple wins against Montreal and Columbus and he’s chased last night. Again, I know it’s not all his fault, but at the very least, he just couldn’t bail (the team) out when there were breakdowns in front of him. He couldn’t bail the team out. What was last night in terms of, you think, of affecting his confidence going forward?

RK: Well, you know guys, he’s a very confident player. He’s an experienced player and he’ll just go back to work here today. He takes responsibility when I go by him after we made the goalie change, he’s the most critical of himself. We move him forward again too and need to work with him. He’s, once again, somebody who can put this in the right place and get himself, get his feet back up. He’ll stand up tall again today.


JW: Do you envision (Jonas) Johansson getting a start down the stretch here? You’ve got a bunch of games coming up. You got back-to-backs Thursday, Friday.

RK: We have a lot of bodies out, as you know, right now. Quite a few guys on IR. We’re going through the tapes of last night, we’re going to — you know, we’ve got the back-to-back like you said going up here against Detroit, the Rangers. For sure, Johansson will get a start here somewhere.  We’re just going to kind of weed through all the information here before we make our decision. We still need to see who we’ll be getting back. We hope to get one or two guys back, maybe, from the injury list and then we’ll mix the cards. But Johansson will be getting a start here in the next few games.


HS: In the small sample size, when he got in last night, what’d you think from [Johansson]? What’d you see from him, I guess?

RK: We really liked the way he came in. He ended up eating one off the 2-on-1 early; it was an unbelievable shot that he really didn’t have a chance on, on the short side. We thought he settled in nicely and showed a very calm first performance. Made some nice plays with the puck too, which for European goalies coming over to North America is always a skill set they don’t really start learning properly until they’re over here. With and without the puck, his size, his positioning takes away a lot of the net. There weren’t a lot of holes in his game. There were some good scoring chances in the third as we were trying to force some opportunities at the other end to give our fans something to cheer about going home. We thought overall it was a really good performance from him and probably the one positive that we all need to take out of last night would have been his performance.


HS: Ralph, I’m curious, you’re very much positive reinforcement and all that in terms of your attitude as a coach with your players. What do you do — you look at the standings this morning, you’re I think 11 (points) out of third (in the Atlantic Division) and 12 (points) out of the No. 2 wild card. Coming out of the break, it’s now three out of four losses. When you looked at the schedule, thought, “Okay, maybe they can win a whole bunch of home games here.” What do you do as a coach or a coaching staff to keep the players focused, to make sure that the adversity doesn’t lead to the attitudes becoming really bad, and it just snowballs?

RK: That’s a really good question. We understand the reality. Trust me, guys. What you’re saying, all those facts, we know the facts. We look them in the eyes and need to be realistic about our situation. Once we’ve looked at it, we need to move forward again and teach and coach and work with these guys to continue to evolve our game. We are going in and out of it since the break. The Columbus game was an excellent performance right through and all that was missing, really, was a little more offense, possibly. We left that game again last night, especially for that stretch in the second period. I thought in the first (period), like you already said, it was a pretty even game; we deserted our game for about 10 minutes. I was at least pleased with the guys coming up in the third period with a pretty even match, trying to get ourselves ready for Detroit. What we need to do is keep the picture small right now. We have very many young exciting players, and we cannot forget that. There is some real value in the core of our team here, and some elite players who need coaching and need developing, and also with this pain and then this time they need that. That’s our job as coaches, is to keep them in that space without letting them avoid the reality of the situation. We have to let the pain come into our room. We have to look at it, we have to try and understand it, but then again we have to work with it now. Continue to teach these guys, continue to learn to become a team that wins two out of three games in the National Hockey League — that’s what you have to do to be in the race, to be a playoff team. We will continue to do all we can to get back to that pace.


HS: It’s hard to do though, because like you said at the top of the answer you mentioned, you’re all well aware of the standings, and I would think it’s human nature. You can talk about it, Jason Botterill has mentioned to our afternoon guys the whole small picture, two out of three. But it’s human nature as a player to understand the bigger picture, and the bigger picture is not a pretty picture.

JW: And I would just add to that, Ralph, I would feel like it’s important that you’d want them to know where they stand in the big picture within the rest of the league. If you’re not looking out enough, are you looking in too much?

RK: We know that every day. Our key players and I am speaking to the media every day and it’s quite clear that everybody in our environment is reminding us of that, guys. That’s everybody’s job, trust me, that’s fine. We have to be able to take that because when the good times are here, we need to be able to deal with that properly. When the tough times are there, they’re there to test our character, they’re there to test our resolve. Listen guys, everybody in this room knows what’s going on here, we’re not hiding from that. But the other thing we know is that we do have a youthful core, that we do have players with — still — upside potential that’s exciting and that we maybe don’t have everything in line right now to be consistently that two-of-three team, but we’re going to work to be that. I do see growth here. I do see development. I do see character here, and I do see a lot of guys working very, very hard and improving on a daily basis. In the end, that’s all you can do when you have adverse situations is take care of what’s in you control. We’re going to continue to do that, we’re not going to let our guards down there. We’re going to work hard to have our fans proud of the work ethic and the game that we’re playing, which they aren’t right now. Only we, with our work and what we do on the ice beginning with Detroit tomorrow, can get that back.


HS: Jeff Skinner, I want to ask you about him before I let you go, Ralph. No goals now in 15 games. When you have a guy like that, who is an NHL goal-scorer, who’s in a drought like this, do you talk to him? Do you stay away? He’s got enough pressure, let him work it out? What do you do? Obviously your team needs production from a number of veteran players — he’s one of a handful of guys. But what do you do when a guy like him is in a drought like this?

RK: Our secondary scoring definitely needs to ignite and we work with him. Donny Granato, being more in charge of the forwards, and myself, working also primarily in the game with the forwards while Steve Smith’s doing the [defense], we do use video footage. We have one-on-one meetings. We’re permanently communicating with all the players. In a situation like Jeff’s, we’re working together with him to try to find that path back, because we know he’s a streaky scorer and once he gets going here he can really help us to turn the energy here and turn the results. We’re working on that daily together and trying to find the right path for him. He was on the first power play yesterday for those two power plays we had, and there’s other ways — he was double shifting at times yesterday, jumping in with (Rasmus) Asplund and (Jean-Sebastien) Dea and just trying to get that first goal. I’m sure once we get the first one we’ll get more, but it’s a permanent coaching process going on here.


HS: Last thing, because I think you mentioned it earlier: You were talking about maybe getting some guys back, so we’re talking like that’s the [Rasmus] Dahlin, [Curtis] Lazar, [Johan] Larsson group, I assume?

RK: Yeah, those three are all candidates short term. We see (Victor) Olofsson developing in a good way; he’s still a few games away. Excited and looking forward to getting him back. [Kyle] Okposo, who’s just such an important player and person for us in the group, we hope that his injury (status) stays in a couple of weeks versus longer than that. We’re hoping to at least get two of those bodies back by the game tomorrow.


HS: You said a few games for Olofsson, is there a time frame of when he might be back on the practice ice at this point?

RK: Yeah, we’re hoping to see him in practice next week. But again, he is on course for that right now, but let’s see how these next four or five days go. With these lower-body injuries, the type that he has, you’ve just got to listen to the body. But we’re optimistic on him and he’s very hungry to get back into our lineup.


HS: Alright, Ralph. Thanks, as always for your time. Appreciate you coming on with us this morning and good luck tomorrow against the Red Wings.

RK: Thanks, guys, for a fair conversation on a tough morning. For our Sabres fans out there, the only thing I can say is we’re back at work here today and we appreciate the support. There was a lot of people still in the building yesterday right to the end. We can feel that passion and we’re going to do all we can to repay it.

Jason Botterill Interview – Schopp & Bulldog (2/4/20)

February 4, 2020


Jason Botterill

Schopp & Bulldog (5:30 p.m.) (19:37)


Mike Schopp: Jason, nice to see you again.

Jason Botterill: Thank you for having me on.


MS: I would say in the last couple of weeks — maybe it’s home games, the losses last week, maybe it’s the Bills ending — the knives are out on the Sabres a little bit. The fans are like — I feel like it’s louder than it was before, maybe it’s just later on in the season. I wonder to what extent you maybe agree with that or have noticed that and how are you feeling? How do you think this is all going?

JB: Well I think it’s a situation where you have your All-Star break, you have time off, it’s a reflection on where the season’s at. Let’s be totally honest, we had two games last week against Ottawa and Montreal that we had to win, we should win. And from day one of the season, Ralph [Krueger] and myself have talked about having a home-ice presence. I think you look at our home-ice record, we’ve done a fairly good job with that, but in crucial situations, when you have an opportunity to have a team come in that’s below you in the standings, you have to capitalize on it. So, yeah, I can understand our fans’ frustration standpoint. Our organization’s frustrated by that. My dialogue with Terry and Kim is frustrated from that and as an organization, for us to take the step forward, we got to make sure that we capitalize on games like that.


MS: We had a caller on Wednesday, Bulldog should talk about it, I wasn’t there. Jeremy [White] lost his mom and we were at the wake and the funeral; we took turns going. This caller was just really hot about ownership and the thing went nation-wide. A part of it that I want to ask you about is the ownership piece, and you just referenced the Pegulas. I think some fans wonder just where they’re at in all this. You know, especially the way it started and big talk before you were here about plans for the organization, no doubt a lot of money has been spent, but there aren’t results yet. What can you tell fans about Terry and Kim Pegula’s feelings about this and what they want to see get done?

JB: Well, to put it bluntly, my conversations with Terry and Kim, they’re frustrated with the results. They want better results. Our dialogue — we’re in constant dialogue — the dialogue goes to, “What are the solutions? What are we doing to get better?” But from a management standpoint, it’s one of the reasons I came to this organization was the resources are given to us to have success, whether you want to, from a Rochester standpoint, to opportunity for developing our scouting staff, to development staff, Rochester, they give us the resources. If you’re frustrated with the results, hey, challenge management. But what our ownership has given us, they give us the tools to have success.


Chris Parker: Do you feel some urgency because of that? For right now, like to do something maybe, I don’t want to say out of character necessarily, but just something impactful and dramatic?

JB: There’s always urgency to do something. From day one on the job, you want urgency to get the job done and to move the organization forward. You look at our team, you look at portions of our season, we’ve played very well. But over the course of the bulk of it, the majority of the season, we haven’t gotten the results we wanted. You can talk about the development of our star players, how they’re having career years, but the entire group — we haven’t done it well enough. So, yeah, I’ve talked to you about this before, we’re always looking to improve the team. Am I going to do something drastic because it’s imperative we do something right now? We’re always looking to do something, but I’m not going to harm what this organization needs. It’s about developing and making it long-term important, but also have short-term success for our group. My job as general manager, I have to take a longer-term picture, but my dialogue right now, my focus right now is to work with Ralph on, hey, what do we have to do to get this roster performing better? What do we have to do to some of our players who haven’t hit their norms for NHL goals or points? What do we have to do from that chemistry structure to get this going in the right direction?


MS: How much of a better season than this did you expect? The cap being where it is, you’ve got contracts here that maybe you’ve wanted to get out of in one way or another. It’s mostly the same team as last year, you’ve added a few guys, but it’s mostly, like very few guys have been taken off the roster. So logically, one might expect kind of the same points total, right? The same place in the standings. That’s kind of where you’re headed. Are you surprised that this team isn’t better?

JB: I think you’re looking for development in your young players. You’re looking for everyone to take that step. I think this team has shown in October, and the difference from this team I say compared to last year, last year after our 10-game win streak, we never really got playing again and found our game, as Ralph would like to say. I thought this year — whether it was the start of December, played Nashville, St. Louis, Edmonton, Islanders, even you look right before the break, having wins against Vegas, Dallas, having a good effort in Nashville — I felt we were making progress from those areas there. So, yeah, I think it’s a situation where you feel there’s more to be given from this group and there’s more situations where we kept some players, younger players are developing from that standpoint. We did bring in players; a guy like Brandon Montour’s here for the entire season, a young player like Henri Jokiharju comes into the group. I think Linus Ullmark has taken a big step as our goalie. We brought in Marcus Johansson. So we brought some players in that we felt could help us move forward.


CP: Do you feel like there could be another layer of management here? I know you’ve got a staff below you, I don’t need to read the depth chart, but assistants and scouts and amateur scouts and pro scouts and all that. Between you and the Pegulas, an experienced hockey person. Is that something that you would welcome, like another tier of management? Another set of eyes? Another experienced person to sort of help steer this?

JB: Well that’s why I brought Randy Sexton onto my staff. He’s a former general manager in the league. That’s why I brought in Steve Greeley to be sort of our player personnel guy. I wanted to make sure that I surrounded myself with people that brought in different ideas. I brought in Randy because he was with me in Pittsburgh and sort of knew that model. Steve had success winning a Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings, had been around the Eichel family, Boston University, seen how things worked in New York too. So to me, there’s always different ways to develop a team and I wanted to have sort of a diverse group that came in from there. I love the fact that my interaction is directly with Terry and Kim. I respect that and certainly think that’s a strength of our organization. And I think the fact that we’ve built people around there, I have strong ideas — strong people providing ideas to me. What I like about our group is they’re not afraid to challenge me on different things. I don’t have a bunch of “yes guys” around me. I feel comfortable with the management group we have and we understand that we have to continue to be better.


MS: I know we’ve talked about this along the way here many times. When you have a team that’s on the outside of the playoffs, especially with it kind of being your mantra and even your reputation for the most part, coming here and this word development. I don’t know how that’s going, really. I know [Casey] Mittelstadt was sent down and you’ve lost [Tage] Thompson; who else is down there that’s maybe somebody you would expect to have be on this team next year? Or if you end up selling, I mean you’ve got several forwards that might make room, you’ve got very few under contract here. Do you have reinforcements?

JB: We’ve utilized two of my three high draft picks on forwards to come into our system. We feel that Sam Reinhart continues to develop as a player, Jack Eichel continues to develop as a player. You’ve seen Victor Olofsson make the jump this year. But look, we’re focused on right now as we have a group of players that are proven NHL scorers who aren’t up to their NHL norms right now for goals. Whether it’s chemistry, lines, that’s what we’re trying to work on right now to get more out of them because we think there’s another level that they can get to.


MS: How is Mittelstadt doing?

JB: Mittelstadt, saw him down on Friday down in Rochester, I think he’s done a great job down there. He’s gone down with the right attitude of being engaged, working very closely with Chris Taylor. You see him in power play, penalty killing, in all situations out there. He’s starting to produce more from an offensive standpoint. You look at, not just his offensive numbers, but what he’s creating from a chances standpoint. It’s top of the league from that situation. Very similar to what Tage Thompson was doing at the start of the year. We’ve been very happy with Casey’s maturity in the situation. I think they’ve won five in a row here in Rochester and he’s certainly a big part of that.


CP: Is the plan, if there is a hard plan, and I realize these things can always change, the trade deadline, injuries, his performance, but would you be inclined to just sort of let him cook down there for the rest of the year and enjoy a playoff run and then take a new run at the NHL next fall? Or could he be a call-up candidate?

JB: Well I think it’s always a situation we’re looking at, but I think you touched on the playoff experience. Playoff experience needs to happen for a lot of players in our organization, and I think that’s extremely key. That’s a big step in anyone’s development — getting that experience, whether it’s at the National Hockey League level, American Hockey League, just playing in those type of games.


CP: Has Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen played down there yet?

JB: Yep, he played last Friday against Syracuse. Won that game, stopped a penalty shot in the first period. Obviously disappointed with Ullmark going down up here, but it is an opportunity for Jonas [Johansson] to come up here and it’s an opportunity for [Luukkonen] to gain more starts in Rochester.


CP: Would you think he could get a look at some point here? Or do you think…

JB: The next step in his development, look, everything was taken a step back because of the offseason surgery. We understood that, but you’ve got to look at the long term for a talented young kid like that. He’s done his job at the ECHL level. I think it’s great that now he’s taken the role of working with [Andrew] Hammond in Rochester and the next step is for him to get games in there and then take over that role and stuff to be a go-to goalie at the American Hockey League level.


MS: Jason, what do you know at this point or think coming up here in the next three weeks that the trade deadline will look like? There seem to be interesting factors, like whether Seattle is a factor in it or teams, well you’ve got 22 thousand something in cap space, like nothing really, no room to do anything. If you wanted to be a seller here in the next few weeks, how do you think you could do? How much action do you think?

JB: The first thing that we’re doing is we have 10 games before the break; we want to see what materializes in these 10 games. As a manager, you’re having conversations with teams, some are from both sides, to be prepared for both scenarios. We’re very optimistic on we have, I believe, seven of the next eight games at home. Didn’t start off the way we wanted it. I thought getting a win on Saturday against Columbus was key. Now tonight will certainly be a challenge but we have an opportunity for our home games here to get some results, and that’s what we’re going to be looking for.


MS: Can you offer any kind of numbers on that? Like you’re 10 or 11 out, the Leafs and the Hurricanes aren’t even in and they’re in the way, Montreal. What would get you to that point where you think you would actually go for it?

JB: We’ll continue to see how it plays out. I’ll have to continue my dialogue with the Pegulas on what’s right for this franchise moving forward here. But it’s going to be challenging, we understand that, but that’s also why you’ve heard Ralph talk a lot about keeping the picture small. And it’s not like our players don’t realize the challenge of the bigger picture, but trying to keep it small and trying to get the small results, that’s the only way we have to go to make progress here.


MS: What do you think Seattle might mean to the deadline? Will there be more moves? Different kinds of moves?

JB: I think you’ll see more moves maybe this summer in preparation for that. I think right now it’s still too far out from that bit. You have so many teams that are still in the race from that standpoint. I think people are more looking at “what can we do to have success this year” versus looking at Seattle down the road.


CP: Do you think there’s the potential for, I guess, “hockey trades” is how I think you people in the business refer to it, at the deadline as opposed to just sell-offs?

JB: I think so. There’s certainly going to be a couple of high-end players, I think, that are going to be in the rental market that will be the big — that will gain a high price. You’ve just seen it over the years, people continuing to see the value in first-round picks and understand, even the top-end teams understand that they have to have those young players coming through their system if they’re going to sustain this at all. I think you’ve heard a lot of general managers talk about they’re looking for, “We’ll move a defenseman for a forward or we’ll move a forward for a D-man” for specific things, but less about the rental market but more about helping out the team out right now what their team needs but the player that can help them in the future too.


MS: I have a theory, if I may, and I don’t know if this is something you hear or even subscribe to, maybe. But I’m into the numbers and I’ve brought this up with Bulldog earlier and even maybe last year too. I think with the league as competitive as it is, teams from the back of the playoff pack winning the Cup and all of that, with the money that it costs, I don’t see buying as really mathematically very smart most of the time. How many wins above replacement, how many wins are you gaining by trading a first-round pick for a player? I think in the analytics world here, I don’t know to what extent hockey’s really there, but I feel like in baseball they would just never do this. They would never trade for these guys if it were the way hockey is, to the first point, how competitive it is and everything. Do you think that makes sense? Do you hear that? Do you agree with it?

JB: Well I think certainly, yeah. You look at the models that’s going now with how salaries are being structured, these teams that have success or are at the top, they’re paying their young players, their star players an even [larger] percentage of the cap. So how do you keep that sort of model going? It’s imperative that you have some younger players contributing and coming up through your system. The only way you’re getting young players is through the draft and as much as it’s difficult to pinpoint drafts on 18-year-old kids, that’s where you’re bringing the talent within your organization.


MS: Some of these Cup teams — the Kings, I think, maybe the Blues and the Capitals too — they would’ve had a prized, or a relatively prized, young player maybe at the AHL level that, “Okay, well we’re good and we want to win and Washington and St. Louis had never won so do we trade X?”

CP: I feel like [Jakub] Vrana would’ve been that player for Washington the year they won the Cup. He was just sort of coming and they could’ve traded him in for something more proven and probably done great but they hung on to him and he ended up producing.

JB: And if you are going to utilize first-round picks in trades, that’s imperative your second- and third-round players continue to contribute to your group. You look at different organizations: Tampa Bay, Washington, Pittsburgh, they’ve had some success in the second and third round for players coming in there, so that at least gives them more flexibility to maybe move a first-round pick. Boston’s another example that’s done a great job in strengthening their organization through second- and third-round picks.


MS: Who is the best second- or third-round pick you’ve got anywhere in this organization right now?

JB: In this organization?

MS: Yeah, like who’s got the highest upside?

JB: Well it’s a challenging position, but [Luukkonen]. Just his track record, from winning last year, from what he did coming over to North America in the OHL. He has the tools; it’s just that position, I understand people don’t want to hear it, but it’s patience with that position.

MS: No doubt. It’s also like the Wheel of Fortune with that position year-to-year. You have basically [Henrik] Lundqvist, who’s always good, and everybody else is, you know, just crazy.

CP: I’m all about patience with goalies. Don’t worry, I know the drill.

JB: We’re seeing it first hand just with our goalie right now, Jonas Johansson. Here’s a goalie that’s 24 years old now getting an opportunity and has worked his way up from the ECHL to Rochester to this year in the American Hockey League. It’s taken time for him, but he’s put the time in with both Seamus Kotyk, our goalie development coach, and now Mike Bales. It’s great to see him being rewarded here now.

MS: I think even Ullmark, I would say, has been up and down. You guys, like Ralph Krueger and a little bit you have talked about how really good he’s been. I don’t know, some of those numbers a month ago weren’t quite saying that, but he’s playing every game too.

CP: He was going really well then he got hurt.

JB: Linus has made a huge step in his development. You look at our numbers, especially even-strength save percentage, he’s done a great job for us. That’s certainly one of the disappointments, especially least week before we went to the All-Star break, I thought he did a great job there. I think that’s a huge step for a goalie, no matter what age, to go from more of that backup to that challenge of being the guy day in and day out. His mental strength has certainly been impressive this year.

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.