Tag Archives: Ralph Krueger

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

November 13, 2019
Ralph Krueger
Howard & Jeremy (8 a.m)
https://wgr550.radio.com/media/audio-channel/11-13-sabres-head-coach-ralph-krueger-howard-and-jeremy (12:43)


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

Ralph Krueger: Good morning. I’m doing very well. It’s good to be home and we’re excited to have a home game tomorrow. So all well here.

Jeremy White: How was the trip as a group? Maybe outside of the games, the losses themselves.

RK: Yeah, there was definitely, definitely two sides to that trip. The one is the results that we’re disappointed with, especially in game two. But the overall experience for our team was excellent. The players were outstanding ambassadors for the Sabres, number one, and for the National Hockey League. I thought the overall way that we managed it was strong. And yeah, we’ve taken some good lessons with us too, which will make us stronger in the future. Tampa Bay, you know a strong opponent there. Overall, I would say a good experience and we’re happy to be back in the NHL rhythm though.

HS: Ralph, what kind of events did you guys have to do over there? You’re say, ‘ambassadors for the game.’ Were there a lot of events with kids? Events with fans from Sweden? Just an opportunity to kind of do stuff away from the ice?

RK: Yeah there was a regular stream of fans at the entrance and exits of the hotel. But at the arena we had a few interesting events that were good for getting contact with the fans. We had an open practice on the Thursday where five thousand, mostly kids, showed up and they were able to watch us skate but also came in contact with the guys. It was a good public relations event. The passion for hockey in Sweden runs very deep and, of course, with us having six Swedes with us, we were a popular group to visit. It was very, very warm the whole contact with everybody.

JW: How about fixing things for your five-on-five scoring at this point. You may have some ideas, we might see some changes. It’s a longer layoff. Maybe with this longer period of time, are there any tweaks that we should expect to see on the way to, whether it’s the forward group, the defense group, or is it just kind of keep plugging and see what you’ve got as the season rolls along?

RK: Well we actually, five-on-five, it was two-two first game, three-three second game. It was our specialty teams that let us down in Sweden. We lost the specialty teams games in both of those and came home without points. I think that five-on-five, we are seeing more pressure to the net in the second game, getting over 40 shots on net is not necessarily a goal that we need to have. If you’re leading in the National Hockey League you don’t need to be pumping shots like that, but it was good for us to have that and also see a lot of net pressure and to see often two bodies in and around that. So that’s a first step five-on-five to create more scoring. At the moment, we’ve got a couple of injures we’re going to be still assessing here this morning and we’re going to see how the group comes together. Yeah, there are a few things we need to improve. We know that. It’s a constant, constant, every day searching for little areas and that’s one that we’re working on really hard.

JW: The scoring of goals at five-on-five kind of even, but maybe not the chances. Do you think you’re getting enough of the quality chances at five-on-five?

RK: Yeah, again, shots don’t always reveal the chance situation. I think that overall we need to get our power play firing again. It is the motor of our offense and when it’s confident and doing well it seems to carry into our five-on-five game. But we’ll, again, the guys are striving to go in the right direction. There’s a strong spirit here and we believe with these two home games coming up we can get our game back on track here pretty quickly.

JW: Have you given any thought to Jeff Skinner. I know you have to move lines around with Vladimir Sobotka out with an injury. Have you given any thought to reuniting Jeff Skinner with Jack Eichel, something we saw a lot last year with a lot of success but have yet to see this year.

RK: Well the Eichel-Reinhart-Olofsson line was outstanding in Sweden, scoring all the five-on-five goals and we’re happy to see them clicking. They were generally firing on power play early in the season, but that goal production now, you know, five goals in that period of time shows that they’re trending well and we need to get some other line scoring offensively for us to get more balance. We’re very pleased with the Eichel line at the moment.

HS: There are no goals yet this season from Jimmy Vesey. Not to single him out because plenty of guys aren’t scoring right now at even strength beyond the Eichel combo. But Vesey in particular, Ralph, what are you seeing? Is he not doing the right things to generate better chances? Is it just not cashing in? Is it puck luck? What do you see from his game?

RK: Well we like the way Jimmy is fitting into the lineup. He’s taking on a penalty-killing role, which is new to him with this level of responsibility. He’s also supporting lines defensively in a way. And his speed and puck skill and drive will, you know, the goals will come eventually if he holds the line that he’s on right now. It’s not that that we focus on so much with Jimmy. We’d like to see secondary scoring through the lineup as I’ve already mentioned. But overall, the effort is there, he’s had some setbacks with a few injures that have held him out of the lineup too. I believe that Jimmy’s goals will come with time, he just needs to hold the line that he’s on right now.

HS: What about your team’s play in your own end? Everybody talks about good offense, if you have the puck you have possession, you’re forechecking, but if you’re spending a lot of time in your own end that’s going to hinder your offense. How about the time spent, say, not just the Sweden trip, if you go back through the losing streak, back to the Arizona game, how would you assess what’s going on in your own end? Are you spending too much time there?

RK: Well we’re eighth in the league in goals against right now and we’re quite pleased with that number. Any time you’re top ten, you’re going to be in the race, you’ll be part of the race. We are a group that’s learning and growing away from the puck every day. But we love the buy-in here. Everybody’s attempting to play within the principles and concepts. Again, nothing is ever perfect in the game, which makes it interesting, but we’re getting closer to the level of consistency that we want. It is truly the offensive production, if you look at something like the Islander game with a 1-0 loss, or even Arizona, the chances we left off the table, the goals against and the overall save percentage is above expectations right now. We just need to get the offense firing again from the coaches’ room. That’s the way we’re feeling. Time in the D-Zone, you know, there’s been shots, but I think the guys have been buying into how we can defend secondary opportunities. Chaos doesn’t show up too much in our D-Zone, so it’s more, again, at the other end of the rink that I believe we need to see an improvement here to get the results back.

HS: You mention the power play, you know, the motor that can drive the team. Of course it wasn’t going to sustain the rate that it was connecting on in the first couple three weeks of the season, but it’s cooled off a little bit of late. Anything the coaches have seen in particular there that might be something you could address?

RK: It’s an area where you often go in waves and waves of momentum. We’ve actually liked some of the possession and some of the O-Zone play better than we did early in the season when we were scoring. I think it’s just that we need to come up with more options that’ll surprise teams. The pre-scouting that goes on in the NHL is quite intense. We liked the personnel. We liked the way we they’re fighting for retrievals on the power play and they’re creating a lot of control time in the O-Zone. I think that getting a little more shot hungry would be probably the first place to go on the power play to create more chances.

JW: You’re saying shot hungry, I was going to ask you a follow up question, but then you meant the power play. I was going to ask more of your five-on-five play, if you felt like you need to be more shot hungry at five-on-five? I feel like I remember earlier in the season you talking about bodies to the net and higher quality shots as opposed to just shots on goal. Just looking at the rankings around the league, whether it’s shot attempts that are high-danger chances or expected goals high-danger chances, the team is kind of drifted down quite a bit, maybe into the bottom 10 even in terms of the share of high-danger chances, which is how many you get and how many you give up. So I wonder if that’s any bit of a concern to you? I started to ask it the one way about your five-on-five play, and it’s more than just the last two games in Sweden. As a general trend, it seems to be perhaps in a direction you might not want it to.

RK: Well again we’re quite pleased with the way the guys are buying into playing as a team. I think that you’re, when you’re getting losses those numbers are going to stray in the wrong way. For us it’s just one of the areas that we need to continue to improve on. I agree with you completely that we have a lot of things still to work on. We’re far from the finished product. The offensive production five-on-five is something that we, with our d-men getting more shots to the net, we don’t want to shoot just for shooting’s sake. We need to get the pressure to the net in general. We’re working on some things that tactically take some time, but again, I want to underline these guys are trying, they’re working hard, they’re very involved in practice and in our meetings that we have and are doing their best to try to improve in the areas we need to improve on and I believe you’re going to see it on the ice.

JW: One last question Ralph before I let you go, I know you’re busy. Rasmus Dahlin, the way that I say it jokingly, I say, ‘Dahlin’s broken!’ I know he’s not broken, but he’s not playing his best hockey and I would think one of the things you might want to do, or one of the things you might be thinking of, is how do we get this guy back to maybe where he was last year to continue to bring him along. So when you see Dahlin’s game, what is it that needs to be a little bit better? What is Rasmus doing well, what is he not doing so well right now?

RK: Well I’m going to defend Rasmus here because he’s working so hard on improving on the defensive side of the game. We’re spending a lot of time with him in that area and it’s going to take a little bit away from his offensive production as he’s cementing the habits there that he needs to cement. He’s still a teenager and everybody needs to remember that and we need to be patient with his game. For a defenseman it’s much more complex than as a young forward coming in. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, he’s just such a coachable kid. He’s working so hard on doing things right and getting them right and everybody’s going to continue to be excited. We aren’t disappointed with Rasmus at all because of the effort that he’s putting in. He’s putting on muscle mass, we’re trying to do weight lifting in and around all our games that we have. He’s right there in the front of the line working out as hard as anybody else. I think that also on the ice his offense, he just needs to relax and allow that genius to create when the opportunity is there and find the right balance, and that’s what he’s working on. I’m sure as well as the rest of the team, you’re going to see some good hockey here in the next few games.

HS: Ralph, thanks as always for giving us some time on the show and good luck tomorrow night against Carolina.

RK: Thanks Howard and Jeremy, and all the best to Sabres fans and we look forward to playing in front of you here at home again tomorrow night.

HS: Have a good morning.

RK: Ok, thanks, bye bye.

Post-Game Report: 11/2 vs. NY Islanders

Final Score

1st 2nd 3rd OT SO Final SOG
1 0 0 1 21
0 0 0 0 27

Game Summary

Event Summary


Top Notes

  • With tonight’s loss, the Sabres have lost consecutive games in regulation for the first time this season.
  • The loss was Buffalo’s first regulation home loss this season, leaving Boston and Vancouver as the only teams not to lose a home game in regulation in 2019-20.
  • The Sabres were shut out for the first time since March 31 vs. Columbus.
  • Tonight’s game was the 50th 1-0 regular-season game in Sabres history. Buffalo is now 27-23 in those games, including two previous losses at home against the Islanders: Feb. 4 , 1990 and Dec. 31, 2002 (OT).
  • Carter Hutton made 20 saves on 21 shots, improving his save percentage to .928 while falling to 6-2-1 on the season.


Tonight’s Goaltenders

Tonight’s Stats
Team Goaltender Decision GA SA
Varlamov W 0 27
Sabres Hutton L 1 21
Updated Season Stats
Team Goaltender Record SV% GAA
Islanders Varlamov 5-2-0 .929 2.14
Sabres Hutton 6-2-1 .928 2.09


Post-Game Audio

Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger

Sabres forward Jack Eichel

Sabres forward Marcus Johansson

Sabres goaltender Carter Hutton

Islanders head coach Barry Trotz

Islanders forward Derick Brassard

Islanders forward Cole Bardreau

Islanders goaltender Semyon Varlamov

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard & Jeremy (10/30/19)

October 30, 2019

Ralph Krueger
Howard & Jeremy (8 a.m)
https://wgr550.radio.com/media/audio-channel/10-30-sabres-head-coach-ralph-krueger-howard-and-sal (15:19)

Howard Simon: And we are joined by the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres on our West Herr Hotline. Ralph, it’s Howard and Sal in this morning for Jeremy. Thanks for coming on with us. Good morning, sir.

Ralph Krueger: Good morning. How is everybody?

HS: You’re 9-2-2, Ralph. You keep this up, I’m in a good mood, you know? It’s a very simple formula: you win, talk show hosts are happy. It’s really very simple.

RK: Yeah, no, we’ve had a good month. It was a month of confirmation how we want to play and a month of learning and growing and now it’s important that we continue on that path. Small picture, try and get better every day, but definitely pleased with the effort thus far in October, that’s for sure.

HS: You mention confirmation, maybe that’s a good place to start. Jason Botterill was on our station the other day with our afternoon guys, Ralph, and their first question was, it was funny, it’s simple, but sure, they said, ‘Is your team good?’ And basically, ‘How can you tell?’ So I thought, ‘You know what, I’m going to ask the head coach that.’ Is your team good? At night when you’re alone with your thoughts and you think, ‘Huh, you know what, these guys are good,’ how would you be able to tell from a coaching standpoint if your team is good?

RK: Well we would have to define ‘good,’ first of all. For me it begins with the commitment to a plan and the buy-in that the team brings because a good team for me is a team that’s playing and working towards its potential, whatever that potential may be. We’re still, certainly, too early into the season to understand or to see what the potential is. I think when you’re 20, 25 games in you’ve got a better read than now, but we’re on the right track to be able to assess that. I would say that the commitment’s outstanding, the attitude here since Sept. 13 from the first ice practice through to everything we’re doing on and off the ice, the way the communication needs to happen in a good team environment, it’s all there. So we’re excited, we’re having fun, this group is hungry to continue to improve and with that focus — for my definition of good — I would have to give you a check mark there.

Sal Capaccio: Coach, your team has played 13 games only, what, five teams in the league have played as many games. How do you think that’s impacted them as a group and how do you have to massage things as far as practice, their schedule and things like that?

RK: Well 13 (games) in 24 (days) to start the season, we all looked at that with some serious respect and were wondering how we were going to manage that. I’m so pleased with the work off the ice the that players have been doing and how we’ve been able to leave out quite a few normal ice practices, whether it’s on pregame days or other days where we need to do things off ice to keep our minds and bodies fresh. We learned how to manage that. We knew it was coming at us, and we know it’s coming at us again after the Sweden trip. I thought the group has managed it very well, the energy and the focus. To be able to win twice off back-to-backs in tough situations in San Jose and in Detroit, there’s a lot of things you have to like with how we were able to handle the pace. And now, with four games in a longer stretch of time, we have a different challenge and it’s a challenge of remaining focused and staying on topic. I believe the extra spaces that we have now between games will help to really bring a lot of energy into them. You know with this first stretch of 13 in 24, we have to be pleased with the constant and continuous effort of the guys.

HS: You have — you mentioned the stretch you’re in now, so you got like two games in 11 days I think it is before you go and play the two games in Sweden. How do you approach this? Do you have lots of practice time? Do you look at it as a mini training camp? What do you do when you have a very small number of games in a two-week stretch?

RK: Well above all we’re able to do a little bit more lifting off the ice because the power lifting that we’re doing in the gym and our high performance team loves this kind of a space so we can add some strength to what will be a hard run through November into December. I think that that’s one of the major opportunities we have. On the ice, we’re going to continue to keep the picture small. Today we’re coming off a day off, which has been rare and it’s important that we work on some fundamentals. And with the back-to-back coming at us this weekend, there’s not really a lull until you get into Sweden. But, yeah, the practice times will be wonderful for us to be able to work on some systems and concepts, principles. We’ll be able to get some of our — we’re looking at Brandon Montour re-entering into the team. [Marco] Scandella should be back in the next few games. We’re going to have some increased competition, whether it’s on defense or up front, we continue to have a tight competition for the role. So lots of good things to work on, but overall I would say the most opportunity will be off ice, actually, to increase our strength and fitness and some of the preventative work we’re doing there.

HS: I was thinking about what to do with my free nights since there aren’t as many Sabre games to watch, Ralph. Power lifting was not on the list, but I’ll take it under advisement. 

RK: It’s an opportunity.

HS: Yeah sure, unless lifting donuts is considered power lifting, then yeah, just check that box.

HS: I did want to ask you about injuries. Scandella and [Jimmy] Vesey, let’s start there. What’s going on with both of them at this point?

RK: Well there’s re-entry here and both — Vesey for sure is very close to re-entering here and I would say Scandella is still a few days away. But we’re happy with the progression. They’re both short term. Once again, getting a full healthy group back helps us a lot with what’s coming up in November.

HS: And you mentioned Montour. Would he be ready to play this weekend?

RK: Brandon is close, so we’ll see how the next few days go and we’ll make a call on that on Friday.

SC: Once that happens you are going to have, you know, you have a plethora or defensemen you can chose from. You just talked about competition. How does that manifest itself? Is it practice? Is it game performance as you go? I don’t know, power lifting? Who can squat more? I don’t know, Coach. How does it manifest itself through that competition?

RK: Well it’s always multiple factors that come into effect. I mean, for sure you look at the pairings and/or lines, the way they need to be put together and the roles that we need to fill during the game. Individual performances will always be the major factor. We want to get the best possible squad together for the game and for the team, the opposition that we’re playing will play into it. I would say there’s multiple factors that come together, but usually it’s pretty clear on a day-to-day basis in the end with the group that we think, the 20 players that we need to give ourselves the best chance to win on the day is what we’ll be doing.


HS: There’s some guys I want to ask you about, Ralph. Let’s start with Rasmus Dahlin. Could you give us your opinion, your assessment of his play from center ice back into your zone at this point?

RK: Well I mean that’s a pretty detailed assessment because there’s a lot of things happening in our half of the ice. There’s the game with and there’s the game without the puck and we’re — you know, he’s a very young defenseman, is continuing to prime how he, the best path for him to bring his amazing skill set into the game. He’s committed to playing defense, he’s committed to finding his work. Steve Smith works with him on a daily basis in a very positive environment. He’s a motivated kid that, with the puck, we all see the opportunity there and he launches a lot of really good transition in our game. He’ll jump into the play the way we like our D to do when we do gain possession. But on both sides of the puck I can say improvement is a word that comes out every day. Weekly to weekly we’re excited with what we’re seeing and above all I always speak about the person he is and the coachability we feel that we have working together with him. I’ll say he’s a fun kid to work with and there’s still a lot of improvement, which we all know for a 19-year-old, and it’s going to be good to see that continue to grow.

HS: He had a rough night in New York the other night and I was curious, the last couple of game you’ve had him with [Henri] Jokiharju. I was wondering, Jokiharju’s played really well, but he’s a young defenseman too. Can you give any insight into when you’re trying to figure out what to do, or your defense pairings, why Dahlin with Jokiharju at that point? Because it’s worked out fine.

RK: I mean we had a rough night as a team in New York and, again, important was that we rebounded and answered the bell in Detroit. But [Jokiharju] has been a very positive surprise in this season thus far. He’s an excellent two-way defenseman. He also is able to make a play under pressure and is extremely committed to his work without the puck and defensively. You can see that he’s got a little more experience under his belt, but, you know, together the two of them have been exciting to watch. We’ll be moving in and out of different pairs and different lines through the season, nothing is set in stone. At the moment, we felt [Jokiharju] was the right partner, but we’ll reassess that as we head towards Washington.

SC: Can you just talk about your goaltending a little bit, what you think you’ve gotten from both Carter [Hutton] and Linus [Ullmark]?

RK: Well, first of all, they’re an excellent duo. They’re cheering for each other when they’re not playing, which helps a lot. The spirit in the team in all the different areas has been really high. The performance has been outstanding. They’re giving us a chance to win every night. Maybe there was a lot of people looking at [the goals allowed] the other night, but you had to look at [Hutton] giving us a chance to win that game. We had multiple chances against Arizona to, first of all, pull away from them and then even when the game was tight to actually win it because of the goaltending performance we got. And that’s what they do for us on a daily basis; they give us a chance to win, they’ve been solid, they’ve really worked the puck well too, which helps on our offensive breakouts out of the zone. Mike Bales has done an excellent job there with the goalies and that’s definitely a good duo, which is what you need in the NHL today.

SC: Coach, you know, Saturday is ‘70s night down at KeyBank Center, right? You’ve got anything, you going to be behind the bench in some sort of getup? Some disco wear or something?

HS: Leisure suit. I’m calling for a leisure suit.

SC: Bell bottoms? What are you doing?

RK: Well I have to say that I didn’t know that until now, so that’s proof that I’m living in the day. Today my day started with an hour with the coaches, then I get to have some fun with you guys for a stretch and we’ll deal with Saturday when it comes. I definitely love the ‘70s music, and that’s great information because that’s a decade that I grew up in. Not too many of our listeners probably can say that. Thanks for that heads up, guys, I’ll try to come up with something.

SC: I’ll be expecting the John Travolta, Saturday Night [Fever]. The walk into the arena.

HS: The white leisure suit?

SC: The walk into the arena, that’s all we’re asking. We can get a little footage of that.

RK: I do remember wearing some very wide bottom pants with stripes down them in the ‘70s. I better not pull those out for the game. I think the generation of players I’m coaching now might have a little problem with that, although I do know they love listening to ‘70s music here. That’s very comforting that this generation has also understood the depths of the music of that era.


HS: Now you guys, do you guys have a ‘Gloria,’ like the equivalent of the Blues win a game and they play ‘Gloria’ in the locker room? Do you have a song after wins?

RK: You know what, I can’t even — they’ve been playing with a few different options there. They were looking for something new this year. So I’ll let you guys know next week when I identify what that is.

HS: I heard after one of your wins, I heard Bachman Turner Overdrive ‘Taking Care of Business’ and I honestly thought, ‘I wonder if that’s like their song now.’

RK: Yeah I mean BTO’s also from Winnipeg, my hometown. So yeah, I saw them multiple times growing up as a kid. It would definitely be a good band with Jason Botterill coming from Winnipeg too, why not?

HS: Hey before we let you go, somebody tweeted and asked us to ask you if your book is available in English?

RK: No, actually in that day I was living in the German-French world, so it’s available in German and French. I don’t know how many copies there are out there. But, no, it is not available in English.

HS: You might say get a few copies sold to Sabre fans if someone can translate it.

SC: Google Translate, folks. Google Translate. We’re okay, we have the internet these days.

HS: Ralph thanks for coming on with us. Congratulations on the start and continued success.

RK: Okay, thank you and have a good weekend, and to all Sabres fans, let’s enjoy the Washington, New York Islanders game coming up and the ‘70s Night here on Saturday.

Post-Game Report: 10/28 vs. Arizona

Final Score

1st 2nd 3rd OT SO Final SOG
0 2 0 0 1 3 26
2 0 0 0 0 2 44

Game Summary

Event Summary


Top Notes

  • With tonight’s shootout loss, the Sabres have finished the month of October with a 9-2-2 record. Their 20 points in the month fell one shy of tying the franchise record for the opening month of a season (21, October 2006).
  • Buffalo’s points percentage of .769 in October ranks as the fifth-best season-opening month in franchise history.
  • The Sabres fell to 5-0-1 at home this season, becoming the final team to lose a game on home ice in 2019-20. Their five consecutive home wins to open the season left them one win shy of tying the franchise-best mark of six set in 1975-76.
  • With their goals tonight, Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner share the team lead and are tied for seventh in the NHL with seven goals each this season.
  • Eichel’s goal moved him into a tie for the NHL lead with nine power-play points this season (4+5).
  • Skinner is now tied for second in the league with seven even-strength goals.
  • Skinner’s two-point night (1+1) gives him 10 points (5+5) in his last eight games against Arizona.
  • Sam Reinhart picked up an assist on Eichel’s goal and now has four points (2+2) in his last four games.
  • Marcus Johansson earned the primary assist on Skinner’s goal, giving him four assists in his last four games against the Coyotes.


Tonight’s Goaltenders

Tonight’s Stats
Team Goaltender Decision GA SA
Coyotes Kuemper W 2 26
Sabres Hutton OTL 2 44
Updated Season Stats
Team Goaltender Record SV% GAA
Coyotes Kuemper 5-3-0 .933 1.87
Sabres Hutton 6-1-1 .926 2.21


Post-Game Audio

Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger

Sabres forward Jack Eichel

Sabres forward Casey Mittelstadt

Sabres forward Jeff Skinner

Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet

Coyotes forward Conor Garland

Coyotes goaltender Darcy Kuemper

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard & Jeremy (10/23/19)

October 23, 2019

Ralph Krueger
Howard and Jeremy (9 a.m.)
https://wgr550.radio.com/media/audio-channel/10-23-sabres-coach-ralph-krueger-howard-and-jeremy (13:30)

Howard Simon: Let’s go right to it. Ralph Krueger joining us this morning here on WGR. Ralph, it’s Howard and Jeremy. Good morning, how are you, sir?

Ralph Krueger: Good morning. I’m very good. Yeah, we’re already moving on to another game, but it was a good one last night. All is good here in the Sabres life.

HS: Yeah, it is. I was curious, I guess, to start with Ralph, you’re learning things about your team as you go along, right? From the first day of camp through the preseason, through the first 10 games of the season. Last night, down 2-0, they come back and rally. Don’t hold onto the lead in the third period, but win it in overtime. What did you learn about your team from last night? And is there anything you saw last night that is a continuing theme that you’re learning about your hockey club?

RK: Well you learn something in every game. Every game has its own storyline. The most important thing is we’re digging down in tough situations and finding ways to keep ourselves in the game, and giving ourselves a chance to win is what we’re trying to do here. We’ve been able to end up on the good side of the scores, and it’s the character of the group that you have to have a lot of fun with right now. They certainly never give up and are always, always, you know, almost energized by a fight like yesterday, our first real adversity here at home. I loved the reaction right through the game to get the win. We’re learning in all facets of the game, there’s always something to improve on and we find something every day. So far, the energy of the group’s been outstanding.

HS: Your team, among things it has done in terms of positive so far through the first 10 games, they lead the league in goal differential. Defensive play, and I don’t mean just defensemen, but the overall defensive play, their play in their own end was a big mess that you had to clean up. What do you see so far? How do you feel about the defensive structure and the team’s play in their own end so far this season? What stands out?

RK: Well that’s an area of the game where there’s not too may statistics, really. It’s a time when you sacrifice the most for your teammates and for the team. The buy-in to playing without the puck and the speed that we have without the puck is every bit as high as it is with the puck right now and that’s something we’re really excited about because playing team defense in the NHL with the pace that we’ve been under, playing 10 games already in this short period of time, it’s been our foundation. It’s been the reason why we’ve been in every game. The guys are understanding the value of that effort and, you know, we have to make it a habit. It’s months before these things become habitual. The guys have to work at it really hard right now and hopefully we can make it a normal part of our game, but we’re on the right track to do that.

HS: Both of your goalies are playing well through the first 10 games of the season too. How much of that is what’s going on in front of them and whether or not the team’s defensive structure’s allowing the guys to get clear shots or be able to track the puck a little bit better because, again, because of what’s happening in front of them?

RK: Well it’s always critical how many second chances are you giving up and how much chaos is there around your net versus shots hitting the net where the goalie has to make the initial save, and we’ve definitely worked hard at eliminating those second chances. If you look at the L.A. game, where we were really on our heels for the second period and [Carter Hutton] had to play and excellent period for us, but we still — even in a bad period — were able to eliminate the chaos that often ensues from shots. And the players are doing a good job of marking their man early and boxing out. And it’s something, for sure, that save percentage is a combination of the goalie’s performance and the team’s support of him, you know? It’s like faceoff percentages, they’re also not just all on the centerman; it’s so much the way the group reacts or jumps in or helps out in certain situations. So it’s very exciting the way the guys have put that effort in on a nightly basis. And I’m sure the Sabre fans are having fun with the work ethic right now, which is something that’s very important for us to perform on a regular basis at this level.

HS: To use your word ‘chaos,’ how are you guys doing on the offensive side of that discussion? I know you mentioned last night after the game, you don’t tell your guys to shoot for the sake of just getting pucks on the net if there’s nobody around the net what’s the point? So, chaos, confusion, how are you doing offensively with that?

RK: We’re still working on that. We have so much skill in our lineup that sometimes the guys want to make the perfect play, whether it’s on the power play or 5-on-5, and we do need to accept sometimes to put teams under pressure with a little more simplicity. But it’s good that we’ve got things to work on here. And as you can see, we certainly can score. We’ve got unbelievable skill in that regard. It’s the defensive part of the game that will be important for our stability, but I trust this group will find ways to score and we will get better at some of those ugly goals too.

HS: One of the stories last night: Jack Eichel had a big game, gets the two goals, two assists, had a couple other goals he could’ve had and couple other plays where he passed up what looked to be prime shooting opportunities. What do you — I don’t know if you’ve even had this discussion with him because he’s such a good passer, but he’s got a tremendous shot — what’s that balance? Or what’s the fine line? How does a guy like Jack Eichel… how should he approach when to pass, when to shoot because he’s very good at both of those areas?

RK: One of the things I’ve spoken about since the beginning is [creating] a system here where the players can let their genius roll and let their genius execute. We definitely don’t want them thinking too much. Jack is, you know, with his world-class skill set, you want to give him some parameters defensively and we need structure in both directions, but there are spaces within that where he needs to make the decisions that he feels is right. He’s finding that way. I mean, just yesterday within that game he realized he needed to take some more shots himself, scores two goals and really drives the net hard for the winner. He’s such a good leader for us and even in games where he doesn’t get any points, like out on the last two games on the [west] coast when we did get the wins, he stayed the biggest cheerleader on the bench and is pushing the guys in that respect. So, [Eichel is] maturing before my eyes. It’s a good thing to see, but we won’t put too many ABCs on him when it comes to offense. There’s not too many players better than him in the world.

HS: The other guy I want to ask you about for sure is Casey Mittelstadt, who has been playing better of late and made, really, a tremendous play both defensively and then turning things up on offense with his pass on the game-winning goal. You talked about maturing with Jack; what do you think from Casey, because it feels like in the last couple weeks his game has improved. Are you seeing that too?

RK: Well he’s improving daily. I mean, with Casey there’s so much learning at that age to do. Second year in the league and the responsibility that you have as a centerman in both directions, taking care of things in your own end, there’s a lot coming at him and we’re teaching on a daily basis. What’s exciting about Casey is he works as hard as anybody in this group. And what I mean by that is not just on the ice — off the ice he’s processing really well. What an exciting future he has. He’s picking up something new every day, so the sky is the limit with Casey, for sure. We just have a lot of fun working with him from the coaching perspective.

HS: One of the other young guys I’m curious about is Rasmus Dahlin. I don’t have the 5-on-5 numbers in front of me, but his time on ice five-one-five I think is either fifth or sixth amongst defensemen. Overall, his time on ice is down a couple minutes from last season. Are you being mindful of minutes with him? Or is that more so maybe third period where you’re protecting a lead and you’re trying to be careful with his minutes? What’s your approach with Dahlin’s ice time?

RK: Well he’s leading our first power play, which is important that he has good energy for that. Otherwise, again, similarly to Casey, there’s a lot to learn away from the puck, there’s a lot to learn defensively in this league. The challenge of defending every single day needs energy. We’re just being mindful of that. We have an experienced D corps, where everybody’s chipping in depending on their role and right now his 5-on-5 role is important to support us offensively but also to take care of the pressure we have within our own defensive structure and he’s going a good job. But I think people speak way too much about the minutes. We do what we think is best within a game every day. We’re not thinking about individual player minutes, we’re thinking about what the team needs in every given situation within in the game. We live each day one day at a time — each game, one game at a time — and the minutes are definitely something that will fall in his favor as he develops and grows as a defenseman in the National Hockey League.

HS: The way you’re coaching right now, Ralph, how much — if at all — have you had to take into account the schedule? Because of the Sweden trip and the week off you’re going to have without a game. So you play 15 games in the first 31 days of the season. You go to Sweden, when you come back you’re going to have 10 games in 17 days. Does that factor into minutes, ice time, strategy, anything that you and the coaching staff have to take into account?

RK: Well I’m just about to walk into a high-performance meeting here where we’re discussing exactly the next three weeks and the spaces we have in between those games and the travel. So yes, of course, we’re within our staff — extended staff — we’re always looking at the big picture and how that can affect our players and what the best pathway is. You can see that we often are doing things off ice to supplement our overall physical fitness and not everything is done on the ice. So, for sure it’s a tricky period for us. It’s a big price the teams have to pay to go to Europe. We look forward to the challenge. We’re going to enjoy it, but it’s also physiologically a test for us as a group how we can manage and use those spaces in between and recover properly and be powered up for that crazy second half of November, which is going to be a big challenge for us. But again, the coaching staff, we’re so strongly supported here with what we have and we’ll put a good plan together.

Jeremy White: How about you personally? How are you enjoying the return to the NHL grind, the NHL schedule?

RK: Well you just get up in the morning, I mean the pleasure is large when the team is performing like this, but at the same time you need to wake up, like I said at the start of the call, and get ready for today, have a super practice day. We travel to New York and we have the back-to-back coming up here. Just keeping the picture really, really small, enjoying the day-to-day work with the players because their interest and engagement is just at the highest possible level. We’ve got a group that’s harmonizing off the ice and what you see, how connect we are on the ice, is beginning with a lot of other things that are going on. So as a leader you enjoy it, but you also know you’re at the very beginning of a long, hard footrace where you can never let your guard down in the National Hockey League. We’ll just continue to keep that picture small. We’ll continue to try to improve daily. That’s our mantra here and we’ll hang on to that.

JW: How about your strategy, Ralph, as you talk about ‘one game, one day’ as you look forward, do you set aside time to look back — five-game segments, 10-game segments, a month — for an individual player, for the team overall? Is that part of your evaluation process?

RK: Yeah, I mean we do look at those things, but we don’t, I don’t spend a lot of time in the past. We do some pretty quick analysis like today of the game yesterday and some of that footage will be shown to the players and/or discussed in smaller groups. We move on pretty quickly. I think that the way things have gone here in the first 10 games, there’s not a lot really… you don’t want to spend too much time there or feel too comfortable or let your guard down. Right now, for us it’s really more about the future and about today and about just getting better. But yeah, we will take peeks back once in a while. I think after 20 games we might take a peek back, after 40, 60 and 80 and hopefully we’re planning for something more.

HS: Ralph, again, thanks for your time with us each week and good luck tomorrow night against the Rangers.

RK: Thanks for your discussion, lots of good questions. To all the Sabre fans out there, thanks for the support and let’s keep enjoying the ride here.