Ralph Krueger Conference Call (10:45 p.m.)
Ralph Krueger Conference Call (10:45 p.m.)
March 11, 2020
Howard and Jeremy (8 a.m.)
Howard Simon: Ralph, it is Howard and Jeremy. Good morning. Welcome to the show, sir. How are you doing today?
Ralph Krueger: Good morning, gentlemen. Good morning to your listeners. Yeah, I’m doing fine, thank you.
HS: Hey, Ralph, before we get to the hockey team, we’ve been spending the show talking about what is now impacting the sports world and, of course, the regular world and that is the coronavirus story. You’ve seen in your league now, locker rooms closed to the media. I’m wondering, and I know you have some stories to talk about because you know people in Europe, but at this point what have the teams heard? What kind of direction, if anything, can you share that you’re all getting from, whether it’s coming to you from ownership or whether it’s coming from the league to all the teams?
RK: At the moment, there’s nothing different than all of us in society just being careful on our hygiene and following the recommendation of the experts. We haven’t had any disruption to our processes other than the contact in the dressing room with the media. For as an example, my life hasn’t changed because I’m doing press conferences on a daily basis and I’m still doing them. Our life would be similarly affected to anybody listening to the show right now. How it’s going to evolve, how it’s going to develop, we’re just going to follow the lead of the league and their recommendations. But thus far, getting ready for the game in Montreal tomorrow, nothing has changed thus far.
HS: You have a son who plays hockey in Switzerland. What has he been telling you about what’s going on over there?
RK: Everything’s gone on in a different speed there because of the breakout in that cluster in Italy. So the Swiss league, my son, his final two league games, which we’re two weeks removed now already, were played in front of empty stands and no spectators. I’m sure everybody here has picked up on the fact that most of the European leagues have shut down; the German hockey league has shut down. In Europe, they’ve had to take drastic measures because of the spread that was going on. Life has definitely changed there. Switzerland, they’re actually quite a ways into this process already. They closed the attendance of any events of more than 1,000 people already more than a week ago, so it’s almost 10 days. They’re going to wait until the 15th to the 17th of March before they make their next move. But there’s not really any fear in the society because it’s under control. They took those measures quickly and everybody’s just following good hygiene.
HS: You have, also, a previous working connection to soccer in Europe. I assume you’re aware of what’s going on with some of the soccer leagues, the UEFA games and how that’s been greatly impacted.
RK: The crazy one is the Manchester City/Arsenal game,; I’m sure everybody knows those brands. An owner of an opposition team came in contact with players, so they’ve had to quarantine the players. Games have been postponed and canceled. It’s very disruptive. With La Liga, that’s the Spanish soccer league, and the Serie A, which is the Italian soccer league, shutting down for the month, it’s truly causing stress in the sports processes there. It’s a situation that we need to respect, but you still don’t see a need for anybody to panic. Hopefully in Western New York so far, I feel people have been taking very responsible steps. My wife and I were out in the city of Buffalo last night, down in the core of the city and the theater area, and everything seems to be moving as usual, but we just need to be smart.
Jeremy White: Ralph, I wonder if you might have an opinion on this: I feel like there’s a little bit of push back on what’s happening. People are calling it a panic, but it does appear to me that there’s not a lot of panic, but a lot of precaution being taken by these leagues. If the NHL makes the next step, maybe the board of governors of the NBA makes a statement today, I don’t think precaution is necessarily panic.
RK: No, definitely not. What everybody did — and I experienced it through my home country, Switzerland — everything they’ve done has been very cerebral and with proper plan. Nobody is panicking in the country at all. There’s no rush on food, or clothing or anything in the country. It’s just functioning carefully and smartly to stop the spread; that’s what it’s all about. It’s certainly no panic in those countries. It’s quite calm, actually, day-to-day life over there. I think that everybody here needs to realize that all the steps being taken in North America right now, you need to take it seriously, but you don’t need to panic. Just take the steps that are being recommended right now.
HS: So your game the other night, a couple things I wanted to bring up: First off, the smile on Jack Eichel’s face when he scored his goal and broke his drought, and how much that probably helped him feel a little bit relieved, I assume.
RK: Well he definitely deserved that goal; the whole group had been working quite hard through a stretch where — we spoke about it last week and you guys were really fair in the conversation, too — we were in a lot of pain as we were playing some good hockey against most of the hotter teams in the National Hockey League but not getting any reward, and Jack was a part of that whole process, of course. He’s an important part of the process. For him to score — every goal scorer is going to go through phases like that — it’s good to see that smile and good to see his confidence returning. We need it now. We need some positive experiences here moving down the stretch of the season. Real pleased to see that goal. It was a beautifully executed one. I think it was the eighth pass in a row on that power play, so it was also very nice and well-deserved goal.
HS: You tweaked the power play look a little bit, if you could talk about that. Olofsson, typically on the wing, you had him in the high slot. It seemed like the triangle up top was very effective, not just on that goal, but overall pretty effective in creating things with Eichel, Dahlin and Ristolainen when they were in that form.
RK: The five of them just have so much skill and so much talent that moving them around can surprise the opposition. We might set it up a little bit different again tomorrow. I think that surprise and deception are important, also, strategically not only within the power play. What Dahlin, Ristolainen and Jack (Eichel) were able to do there was just a lot of real quick puck movement and through simple lanes. We need to keep that speed up on our power play. The power play is the offensive motor. To get our offense going, which is still not at the speed we need it to be, the power play is going to be a centerpiece, so let’s keep building on it. But we do have skill in that group and everybody’s so different and unique in the way they bring offense into it. I’s a lot of fun to work with those guys.
HS: You put Skinner with Eichel and Reinhart last couple games. What have you seen from that line so far?
RK: Well I’m sure you guys were happy. [Laughs]
HS: [Laughs] I was. I was. Thank you, by the way. No, I was curious, because Jeff (Skinner) was at least scoring and he seems like now he’s getting more shots. He seems a little bit more active. It’s not like they’ve had a ton of goals, that line, in the two games, but they look like they’re creating things, you know?
RK: That was able to happen because of the synergy that we felt between Johansson, Kahun and Olofsson. It’s always about finding combinations that we have. Two lines that are pushing more for offense, the other two taking care of penalty kill and our defensive responsibilities, but still adding offense. Yeah, we’ll see how it goes forward. But you know how it’s been this year: We’ve moved players around. Everybody needs to be able to play with everybody. At the moment, that’s a good look. We like the four lines the way they look at the moment. It feels good and we’re happy we were rewarded for it against Washington. Now we need a confirmation against Montreal.
HS: There was some controversy the other night with the Montour goal that was waved off. I don’t know if the league even makes referees available to pool reporters for an explanation, but did they give you an explanation as to what they saw live and why they decided to wipe out the goal?
RK: I never take it personally. Referees are standing at a certain angle; they don’t get to watch a reply. That was more what I was upset about, is that goals that can decide games like that down the stretch, last five minutes or wherever we pick the mark, should be reviewed. That would have been a matter of seconds for a referee to review that and see that it should be counted as a goal. I would prefer if they would just always count it if they’re unsure and then review it. It was the process that upset me more than the decision; we all make mistakes. He had a bad angle, he came over and said I couldn’t see a review, I couldn’t see a challenge on it, I had to make the original decision on the ice. I was upset under the circumstances that we were in. The team’s fighting to get out of a losing streak and needing some confidence. Watching that all evolve, I was proud of the guys being able to park that and still find a way to win the game. But the explanation, to me, was simply that watching it live, he thought there was contact, but the video review showed quite clearly that there wasn’t contact inside the blue paint. So, for us, certainly, it should have been counted as a goal.
HS: So you’re wrestling with the decision, and if you lose [a challenge], they’re getting a power play. But because of what you just said, you want to stop the losing streak and all this, you would have had, what, inside three minutes, whatever the time was, a one-goal lead. Why didn’t you just say, “You know what? I’m going to take my chances. I’m going to challenge this because we really need this goal”?
RK: Well I’ve challenged twice where we got turned down and we had a shorthanded situation, so I just didn’t trust it being overturned. I’ll tell you honestly that it has to be absolutely, 100 percent clear in the video for it [to be] overturned and I wasn’t confident that it was — it might have been 95 percent. So I learnt the hard way and there’s no way I was going to do that to the team, that we were going to finish a game shorthanded against Washington, because I believed in our chance of winning in overtime. We’ve been a really good 3-on-3 team and also believed that we had, with the home crowd, and they were fantastic in overtime. And in penalty shots, I was thinking mathematics was still on our side. It did work out in the end; if it wouldn’t have worked out, I’d probably be telling you guys a different analysis this morning. Under the circumstances, we just didn’t believe it was going to be overturned.
HS: Before we let you go, from the “just curious” department of questions: The shootout — I’m not sure if we’ve brought this up with you at all this season. What’s your opinion of the shootout in general? Let’s start there.
RK: My opinion in general is that Mike Bales, our goalie coach — it’s like a specialty team for us, it doesn’t come to play very often — but he’s generally in charge of setting it all up. So we do a lot of looping of information on opposition, and one of them is, of course, goaltending performances in shootouts. It’s running in the dressing room before the game so players can see it. Mike sets all that up, analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the other goalies, and he also is a major force in deciding who’s shooting on our team because he does watch them a lot in practice and tries to figure out who would work best against the opposition teams. So we do have a strategy there and, again, just like penalty kill and power play, we consider shootouts a specialty team that can be extremely important because of the points that are on the line, so that’s kind of how we build it.
HS: Do you like [the shootout]? It’s funny; when they brought the shootout into being, Ralph, I thought, “Ah, that’s a great idea.” Loved it. Drama. If I’m at a game in the building, everybody stands up for the entire shootout. The other night, you had sudden-death shootout. But I feel like it’s — over the course of time — it’s played itself out. I think overtime is far more exciting to me now than the shootout. Do you like shootout or do you think maybe we could extend overtime and just scrap a shootout all together?
RK: Well, guys, what’s happening with the 3-on-3, there’s so many more goals in overtime now. When we played 5-on-5 overtime at the beginning, it was boring. Teams would just shut it down. So the 3-on-3 is fantastic, but you can’t go any longer, because the best players are playing and they would be fried if you had a back-to-back, for instance, the next day. So I think the shootout — if you look at our crowd the other night and you look at how much fun they had with it, and it took the seventh shooter to score (the game-deciding goal), I think everybody went home feeling they got entertained to the top level here. It was against one of the best teams in the league, a serious Stanley Cup contender; to win in the shootout was a better finish than if we would have tied, left home with everybody getting only one point. So I think the way we’ve got it set up here seems to work; if you look at our schedule and you look at the pace, we couldn’t extend it any longer. In the playoffs, you get to go the whole [overtime] until it’s over, which is important. I think it’s a good addition to the game. It’s a lot of fun.
HS: Well, Ralph, as always, thanks for giving us time on the show. Appreciate you coming on with us this morning and good luck tomorrow night in Montreal against the Canadiens.
RK: Thank you for the call and I wish all of our listeners a good day today.
|Updated Season Stats|
Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger
Sabres forward Jack Eichel
Sabres forward Jeff Skinner
Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark
Capitals head coach Todd Reirden
Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin
Capitals defenseman Dmitry Orlov
Capitals forward Braden Holtby
|Updated Season Stats|
Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger
Sabres forward Marcus Johansson
Sabres forward Dominik Kahun
Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe
Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan
Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist
Penguins forward Nick Bjugstad
Penguins goaltender Matt Murray
March 5, 2020
Howard and Jeremy (8 a.m.)
Howard Simon: Ralph, it’s Howard and Jeremy. Good morning, welcome to the show, sir.
Ralph Krueger: Good morning, Howard and Jeremy, and good morning Buffalo.
HS: Ralph, tough road trip, 0-4, a big blow obviously. What was your message or maybe what is your message to the team as you gather and get ready for tonight’s game against Pittsburgh after the difficult trip?
RK: I definitely agree with you. It was disappointing to come back from that road trip — and from the investment of energy there and the way the guys played in phases — with zero points. But we’ve got Pittsburgh here today. As a game day, number one, it’s always an event here at the KeyBank Center, it’s always wonderful to have a home game, but especially when you’re playing [the] Pittsburgh Penguins. It’s a special day. It’s a good one for us to throw our energy into. We’re not in a happy place right now, but we are in a place where we’re continuing to try to confirm our game. It’s a challenge where we need to make the picture really small here, concentrate on the game and a good performance here for our home crowd.
HS: The Eichel line is pointless now in five games. Is there anything in particular that you’re seeing that you could kind of, maybe pinpoint an issue as to why they have not been able to produce any points?
RK: It’s mathematics sometimes. When we look at the two games that were critical at the beginning of the trip in Colorado and against Las Vegas, the line had, combined, 15 shots on net and no goals, which mathematically made no sense. It’s just keeping that kind of persistence of looking for shots, continuing to look for opportunity, and the mathematics should pay off for them. They’re of course frustrated. Our power play was frustrated, as you well know we went 0-for- on the trip and it’s something that is our offensive motor and they’re a major part of that. They play the major minutes on the power play. So we, of course, have been having conversations about solutions, getting more simplicity, maybe, in the attack, [looking] for more net presence and all the habits that lead to goals. It’s hard work when things aren’t going in the easy way, and that’s what we need to do is work hard to get those opportunities here in [March].
HS: You broke up [Jack] Eichel and [Sam] Reinhart the other night in Winnipeg; was that a in-game try and get a spark thing or is that something you would continue tonight with different line combinations?
RK: You know what guys, it’s something that in a game we have been doing off and on during the season, whether it’s that change or somebody on the left side and [Victor] Olofsson would go on another line. It’s just when a team is down zero-three, making sure we never quit, we never give up and we try to fight our way back in. Sometimes line changes work, and it seemed to give a little bit of boost of energy. That duo especially, Reinhart and Eichel, is one that’s been so strong for us all season long. We’re not going to give up on it that quickly. But going through the games as we move on, we might look for some different combinations and other looks. If we need offense, some changes fresh up the guys sometimes and bring some new energy. So we’ll see how that goes tonight. Beginning, we’ll be leaving our lines alone.
HS: Ralph, there’s some speculation that Jack is playing through some kind of an injury. I don’t know if that does or does not tie into his five-game point drought at this point. Any talk about — if he’s playing through some kind of hurts and where the season’s gone, where the standings are — of shutting Jack down?
RK: It’s certainly not an injury that has any risk [by] putting him in the lineup, or we would be dealing with it differently. We have multiple players with aches and pains at this time of year, that’s the way hockey is. It’s not an injury that we find is jeopardizing his game that much, but it’s there. He’s showing captain leadership by fighting through it. Our medical team is working hard with him, and we hope in the next few days that it continues to get better, which it is actually doing even though he’s playing. But again, he’s not the only one; I have to say there are some ice bags in the room, but that’s the nature of the game and we need to learn to fight through that as a group and we are right now.
HS: The fact that he’s been taking faceoffs again, is that the indication that he’s getting better?
RK: Yeah, for sure guys. We wouldn’t be having him in the draws if it was a risk. It’s always the question you ask, “Can it get a lot worse if a player plays?” We avoid those situations wherever possible and that isn’t the case, so right now we’ve got a healthy lineup and we need to show that power in the game today against Pittsburgh.
HS: You were talking about the power play, and it had a difficult road trip, but I want to ask you about penalty killing because it’s had its struggles this season. As the coaches break down that — I mean it could be as simple as you can talk to us about the goaltender who has to make the save — but as the coaches break down what you see on tape from the penalty-killing unit, are there any particular issues that you could bring up or discuss in terms of trying to explain why that’s been a problem area?
RK: What’s been strange, guys, is at home we’ve been mid-table in our PK and it’s on the road that we’re at the very bottom. It’s a strange phenomenon; I’ve never seen it quite like that because generally our team and our structure and the way we perform, the principles, we apply the same at home as on the road. Our power play’s running pretty well equal road and home, so it’s a strange one. All you can do in those situations is work hard on the fundamentals. That’s the only thing we know how to do as a coaching staff, to continue to drive those in. We have made some personnel changes. You will have seen that [Kyle] Okposo was doing some penalty killing on the road here the last few games. We really liked what we saw in him; his game’s been such a team game right through the season here and his work without the puck’s been strong. Using different personnel is something we are doing also on defense, even seeing Rasmus Dahlin get some penalty-kill minutes. He actually hit 26 minutes the other night just on pure performance. There’s all kinds of different approaches. There’s no clean, easy fix in this league, it is so competitive, and it is so strong and especially the power plays of every team have a lot of skill in them. We just need to continue to work hard on the areas we’re not happy with, and it’s certainly one. Keep the PK going the way it is at home. It’s been really strong at home lately and it needs to be strong tonight for sure to give us a chance. Pittsburgh has one of the best in the league.
HS: Since we last talked to you you’ve added a couple of players. Want to ask you so far about [Wayne] Simmonds and [Dominik] Kahun. With Wayne Simmonds, what have you seen so far from him? What do you think he brings to your team?
RK: Well both of them bring personality that is unique. Wayne Simmonds for sure has a reputation of being a tough player who brings automatic respect because he is a very good teammate and an excellent human being. He’s brought another strong voice into our room. He is a player who really is there for his teammates all the time, pushing guys in the right direction, but also with an experience that people will listen to him. And the game he brings, he looks for the net front, he looks for the blue paint, he looks for the confrontation that is needed there. It’s a great example for us. Dominik Kahun is a play that I know from his European past. He’s, at 23, already won multiple championships over there, has been to World Championships, won a silver medal at the Olympics. Now he’s learning how to play the NHL game. That is something. He’s in his second season, he’s definitely got the skill, he’s got the smarts. He was a centerman his whole life before, so he understands the game without the puck. He’s been a spark plug kind of player for us here and we look forward to seeing him grow into our group. The important thing is when we add a player, he brings something fresh, something different, something new, another tool that is exciting. And both of them do that. It’s been a good move for the organization, and we look forward to seeing him grow here.
HS: Ralph, I’m curious, when players join an organization this late in the season, and maybe it’s different because one guy is a veteran and one guy is a younger player, how do you get them acclimated to your system, your philosophy, where they’re supposed to be on the ice? When they didn’t go through training camp, they weren’t here for most of the season, how do you get them up to speed and is it easier with a guy like Simmonds than Kahun because he’s been around the league so long?
RK: They’re both very smart players. Donnie Granato will take the forwards if they come in, Steve Smith will take the D and of course Mike Bales working with goalies. They will do the technical specific coaching through video. We don’t overload them. We stay close to new players; we make sure they understand. I’ll work with the general 5-on-5 structure, the way they need to fit in to our team game with and without the puck. There are just nuances and little tweaks. The NHL as a whole has a lot of copy-paste going on. There are general concepts that are similar in all the teams, and it’s just the way we put the package together is unique, certain nuances within that. They’ve done really well at stepping in, and it’s not ever going to be perfect as the game of hockey’s never a perfect game, but their hunger to try and get those things right has been big. Their game intelligence, their hockey IQs have been high. It is always a tough process for a player at this time of year, but both of them have done a really good job of stepping in and doing their best to execute within our team game, which is what we need to do to be the best version of the Buffalo Sabres that we can be.
HS: Ralph, final thing for you this morning, what is update on Linus Ullmark?
RK: He’s back in the group, he’s looking at NHL shots here. We’re hoping to bring him in as a backup not today, but within the next couple of games. It’s a process that you need to just take one day at a time. He’s only been (back) with us a couple of days now and it’s just good to have him back. As always, our rehab team sends players back to us in game-ready shape. Hoping to have him back in the lineup here in the next few games. He’ll be a good addition back into our group.
HS: I know that the trip wasn’t going well, but you did get a chance to go back to Winnipeg. Did you get caught up with some people? What’d you do when you were back in Winnipeg?
RK: Thanks for asking. It is my hometown. I had 12 family members of different types, in-laws and so on, at the game in Winnipeg, so that was a special event. My 89-year-old mother-in-law was at her first Winnipeg Jets game ever and very proud of being there. Those are the human sides of the game that are a beautiful thing to be a part of. We would’ve preferred to have had the win. It was good to be back in Winnipeg. I’m at home in Buffalo right now. It’s a great place to be at home. I know our fans are not pleased with the road trip, and they shouldn’t be. We all can’t be, but they should be pleased with the effort the players gave and the fight that’s in this group right now. We’re hoping to reward our fans with a real good fight here tonight against Pittsburgh.
HS: Well, Ralph, thanks for the time on the show, as always. We appreciate you coming on with us. Good luck tonight and we’ll look forward to talking to you again next week.
RK: Thank you Jeremy and Howard for the good conversation. Thank you to the support we’re feeling every day from the Sabres community and we will work hard to earn that support in a positive way. So thanks guys.