Tag Archives: Ralph Krueger

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard & Jeremy (12/18/19)

December 18, 2019

Ralph Krueger
Howard and Jeremy (9:30 a.m.)
https://wgr550.radio.com/media/audio-channel/12-18-sabres-head-coach-ralph-krueger-with-howard-and-jeremy (13:18)

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

Ralph Krueger: Good morning from our hotel here in Philadelphia.

HS: Oh, that’s right, yeah, I’m thinking you’re not busing back last night, you’re going to Philadelphia. Well thanks for joining us from the city of brotherly love.

HS: So last night, Ralph, you look at the game and dug yourselves kind of a hole last night and couldn’t dig out of it. Is that one of the stories that you thought developed last night in Toronto?

RK: Well we dug ourselves a hole, for sure, and it was disappointing because we were off our game last night from the get go and had trouble finding, you know, the principles that make us the best possible team, so we were frustrated with that. What I liked was the reaction within the room after two periods and the conversations we had and the fight in the third where we actually, with the 6-on-4 with two and a half minutes to go had an opportunity to at least get a point out of that game even though we had two off periods. Yeah, now it’s back to the drawing board and getting the group regrouped for a better game tomorrow. We were disappointed with that loss last night, but let that adversity, again, give us some lessons to take with.

Jeremy White: Ralph, games like that will just kind of happen. I mean, it’s a long season, you’re going to have your ups and downs. What are those conversations like when you’re saying, you recognize you’re off your game and in the room, maybe after the first or after the second, who’s talking? What’s being said? How active is your role in that? How much are the players talking?

RK: Well the pattern in the intermissions is usually pretty similar so the players can take care of their bodies and their minds in the right way. I usually come in at about the 10-minute mark of the intermission and speak to them and then give them a few minutes before we come back on the ice. But they’re also having conversations on their own. We have a good leadership group here; they understand pretty clearly what the expectations are. And the guys are honest, they know when we’re off and they work on that. We as coaches will bring in the inputs we feel are right, you know? As a coach sometimes it’s going to be about hockey and sometimes it’s going to be about life or about motivation and effort, you know? That’s always on an intermission-to-intermission basis. I usually follow my gut after speaking with the coaching staff and sometimes you come in right after the period if there’s need, but generally, you know — last night was one where we were definitely all quite grumpy after two and, you know, came out with a fight in the third.

HS: A strategy question: The pulling the goalie with the power play late, you did it last night, you did it against the Islanders and it worked. Now last night you did it, you know, I think with about 45 seconds left or so on the power play. What’s the thought process, how do you figure out am I going to do this, when am I going to do this?

RK: Well it just depends on how much time’s left in the game. I mean, we would be pulling our goalie irrelevant of a power play or not at about the 2:30 mark now. In the old days, you used to wait until a minute to go, but that’s, you know, it’s just not enough time to get organized anymore the way the pace of the game is. You take that risk if you have control. So on that situation last night we felt extremely comfortable. We ended up with an unfortunate turnover after actually getting set up in the zone. You need to take risks down the stretch when you’re down goals in the NHL today and that man advantage usually has been effective for us. We’ve scored a lot of goals with the goalies out and yesterday we took it on the chin. But I would make that same decision again today looking at the circumstances that we had.

HS: Ralph, when you look at some of the things you’re trying to fix with this team, the [Jack] Eichel line has been great and the scoring after that is spotty. As a coaching staff, what can you do? How can you try and address that? How much of an issue has that been?

RK: Well first of all, the positive is you have a line, like the Eichel line, firing on all cylinders as it is and certainly one of, if not the best line in the National Hockey League right now. But you’re right, 100 percent, guys. We need to get secondary scoring going here. It needs to alleviate some of the 5-on-5 pressure. The opposition are throwing their top D and top forward line at Jack and Sam [Reinhart] and [Victor Olofsson] here on every road game and we need to have more pressure there. And what we do is we’re working with different combinations trying to find ones that’ll fire and ones that’ll go for us. We don’t need another line scoring at that pace, but we definitely need to be a threat. We have been in the games that we’re good, we are getting that secondary scoring. How do you work on it? Well, it’s just continue sticking with our principles in general where we need to get traffic to the net, we need guys in the blue paint to create secondary opportunities. I’m sure our secondary scoring will improve. It’s another area of improvement that we have, which is good. As you guys know, we’re in permanent stage of growth here and that’s one area we’re going to work hard at.

HS: How would you categorize Jeff Skinner’s game at this point? He’s — I think he’s gone seven games now without a goal and he doesn’t have a single goal on the power play.

RK: Yeah, he’s been in and out of playing on the first unit so power-play goals aren’t really a good measurement. He’s getting his opportunities; there’s a lot of shots on net. He’s getting three-to-five shots on multiple games here. He is a streaky scorer, let’s hope in Philly it breaks and he runs a streak here again. But offensively there’s a lot of things going right for him, but we have tried different combinations and as you’ve already mentioned in past phone calls, he had a lot of success last year with playing with Jack together, but we’ve got that line firing now so we need to get another line going, and Jeff will be an important part of that. He’s got to stick with what he’s doing and keep working hard to get the opportunities and I’m sure that’s going to come in bunches for him again.


HS: One of the other guys I want to ask you about… [is] Rasmus Dahlin’s play since he’s come back. What have you seen from him since he came back from the concussion?

RK: Well we feel, actually, that the break did him good in so far as watching some games from the outside and being able to see where his positional play without the puck needs to be and we feel he’s come back very strong. He’s adding to our offense. Our power play is definitely stronger now with Rasmus back into the lineup. With Dahlin, it’s an age where the biggest growth with him is going to happen without the puck and defensively. We can see that he’s seeing his position better all the time. He’s reading the game better all the time and we’re really pleased with him since he came back from the injury.

HS: Especially the game against the Islanders, they tried to play physical against him and it seemed like he handled it and actually had a little bit of an edge to his game. Did you see that? Or do you see that in him at all?

RK: Yeah, he ended up with a combination of, I think it was six and four hits and blocked shots, or four and six. When you start getting those gritty statistics as a skilled offensive player, it shows the kind of game that you’re playing. You’re reading it right there, exactly. His physicality in that game was impressive and it’s something that he seems to feed on that when he has some contact and he has some hits and blocks some shots, his offense seems to be more explosive and dynamic. So I think there’s an exciting combination that we’re seeing there.

HS: In our remaining time left, I also want to ask you about Casey Mittelstadt. He went down to Rochester for you guys. I don’t know if you can share anything, any insight; what was your message to Casey when you can Jason [Botterill] met with him before he left for the Amerks?

RK: Well it’s all about him getting reps at a higher level. So his ice time had been reduced here of late and then [his] being a healthy scratch got everybody thinking about the need for Casey at this point in his development to get repetitions and to be able to quarterback a power play the way he can and to play higher minutes 5-on-5, to work on the habits he needs. Casey, we’re excited about his future as always. There’s many different ways the players develop and sometimes a perceived — from the outside — setback like this is an opportunity for him to grow and learn and again get repetitions with a little bit more time and space. Now in the American League there’s a lot of hard work coming at you and there’s more physicality even, at times, so it will be a test for him. But, again, he’ll, with his skill, have more time and space to work on the game that we need him eventually then to play here and he will certainly improve. And faceoffs is another area where he can work on while he’s down there because we do see him as a centerman long term. With Chris Taylor and his staff down there, he’s getting the right messages and will have more practice time in between the games, too, where he can work on all of this.

HS: Is there a time frame with Casey, Ralph? Do you know?

RK: No time frame.

HS: No, you just kind of play it by ear, see how he does?

RK: You know what, we don’t have a time frame on too much here. We wake up in the morning and today we’re in Philadelphia and we’ve decided not to practice today. We’ll do a pregame skate tomorrow because we felt the group was a little bit flat last night. We’re going to do some meetings and an off-ice workout and then tomorrow we’ll get up and work the game day and so on. It’s really, you know, we need to feel what the group needs on the given day. And it’s the same with the development of a player; we’re going to take Casey day-by-day. There’s no time frame on that at all. It’ll all be, you know, there’s so many factors coming at decisions like that. What’s happening here? How healthy are we here? And so on and so forth. So no time frame; just as we are here, get up, try to get better and take care of the next task as best as we can.

HS: One other thing I wanted to ask you about: I read some comments from the other day about how you text Sean McDermott. And I know you and some of the players were congratulating the Bills the other day on clinching the playoff spot and you had mentioned that — first off, nice job staying up Sunday night for the game, that was good. Good decision on your part. And you had mentioned that you text with Sean McDermott. Is there anything you can learn as a coach from a guy who’s coaching the football team in town?

RK: Oh, we just bounce back and there’s always depth in the messages back and forth with, you know, with a sentence or two. Sean sent some video tips this way of other athletes from other sports, even from basketball, saying something that we both like. But the goal that Sean and I have in common is to make the fans base in Buffalo for sports proud of what we’re doing. We communicated about that in the summer and he’s written me that a few times. All I can share is that it’s a very natural friendship that’s growing and I’m just a really big fan of the Bills and what they’re doing there and how they’re doing it. It feels like vice versa; they like what we’re doing. It’s good to see some Bills players at games and our players love to go there. The relationship beginning with our owners’ passion for sports in Buffalo and getting the sports scene back on track is carried by Sean and myself in the same way. We’re just working hard every day to try to do that and I’m very, very excited for the Bills that they made the playoffs. We’re going to be cheering loud for them.

HS: Well, appreciate you coming on, as always. Thanks very much for getting up with us this morning form Philly. Good luck tomorrow night against the Flyers.

RK: Thank you so much, gentlemen. Thanks for the support, it’s been wonderful and we look forward to a good game tomorrow and then having a wonderful game on Saturday afternoon against L.A. at home in the KeyBank Center.

HS: And you don’t have to stay up late for the Bills game Saturday, it’s a 4:30. So you can get done with your game and then watch the football game.

RK: That’s good, thanks.

HS: Have a nice day, Ralph.

RK: You enjoy your day too. Thank you.

Post-Game Report: 12/12 vs. Nashville

Final Score

1st 2nd 3rd OT SO Final SOG
2 1 0 3 39
1 2 1 4 32

Game Summary

Event Summary


Top Notes

  • With the win, the Sabres improved to 10-3-3 at home this season.
  • Linus Ullmark earned the win to improve to 6-1-1 with a .923 save percentage in his last eight appearances.
  • Jack Eichel scored two goals tonight and now ranks second in the NHL with 22 goals this season. His six multi-goal games in 2019-20 lead the league.
  • Eichel extended his point streak to 15 games (14+13), tying Patrick Kane for the longest point streak in the NHL this season. He now has the sixth-longest streak in Sabres history.
  • Eichel now has 11 points (5+6) in nine career games against Nashville.
  • With Buffalo’s first goal of the night, Jimmy Vesey extended his point streak to three games (1+2). Vesey now has eight points (4+4) in the Sabres’ last 11 games.
  • Vesey’s goal was the 100th point of his NHL career.
  • Rasmus Ristolainen’s assist on Vesey’s goal gives him seven points (1+6) in his last eight games.
  • Victor Olofsson’s goal tonight gives him 19 points (7+12) in his last 18 games. He now leads all NHL rookies with 29 points this season (13+16).
  • Sam Reinhart’s two-assist performance tonight gives him seven points (3+4) in his last five games and nine points (6+3) in nine career games against the Predators.


Tonight’s Goaltenders

Tonight’s Stats
Team Goaltender Decision GA SA
Predators Saros L 4 32
Sabres Ullmark W 3 39
Updated Season Stats
Team Goaltender Record SV% GAA
Predators Saros 4-7-2 .894 3.04
Sabres Ullmark 10-6-2 .916 2.84


Post-Game Audio

Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger

Sabres forward Jack Eichel

Sabres forward Victor Olofsson

Sabres forward Sam Reinhart

Sabres forward Jimmy Vesey

Predators head coach Peter Laviolette

Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard & Jeremy (12/11/19)

December 11, 2019

Ralph Krueger
Howard and Jeremy (9 a.m.)
https://wgr550.radio.com/media/audio-channel/12-11-sabres-head-coach-ralph-krueger-with-jeremy-and-sal (14:33)

Jeremy White: Ralph, good morning. It’s Jeremy and Sal Capaccio in for Howard. How are you this morning?

Ralph Krueger: Good morning, good morning. I’m very good. I like snow, so it’s a beautiful day in Buffalo.

JW: Do you have anywhere to go today? I mean, hopefully you’re not driving too far. It can get rough out there.

RK: No, no I live in the core of the city so I have a similar drive no matter rain or shine, snow or sleet, so it’s fine. My movements are easy. We’re here at rink early this morning, the coaches, and we’re back at it.

JW: So what’s on the docket on things you have to work on? I mean, last night’s game was, I think, a fairly strong performance from your group. Fairly happy overall?

RK: Yeah, we’re keeping on the plan, which is to look for growth again today. Keep out picture small. Get ready for Nashville. But more than anything, we need to take with what we did yesterday and how we closed out that game after the 3-2 goal. We had our best 15 minutes of hockey this season, finishing a game and controlling the scoreboard and understanding what it takes to bring those kind of games home against the very heavy, hard-playing St. Louis. I was proud of our finish and so a lot more to confirm yesterday than to learn from, so that’s always nice.

JW: Do you have individual plays? You’re talking about your best 15 minutes. Will you take the video, go over it with the players? What kind of, I guess, drills and or video sessions, or whatever you might do with the players, will you use to highlight exactly what about those 15 minutes you liked so much?

RK: So what happens on a practice day like today is, first of all, we need to know what’s coming up, which is — again, we continue on a torrid pace here with two games in the next three days coming up, so we won’t practice that long. It’ll be short and high quality, low quantity and then off the ice we generally will take some clips from the game yesterday that we liked and also some that we didn’t. There’s always things we can improve on, and work again in a compact form. The guys are still recovering a little bit from our Western Canada trip, so we take it easy on the information, but maybe a 10-minute meeting about the things we liked and about the things we can work on and then we’ll break off and my supporting coaches will do some individual work with players and that’s kind of how our day looks today. We just go right back at it and try to get better for the game against Nashville tomorrow.

JW: You managed to do something that it seems like doesn’t happen often, which is win the first game back from a Western trip. That’s always supposed to be a kiss-of-death kind of game. It’s always difficult for a team that comes back from the West to win their first home game. Did you do anything different about preparation? We’ve talked load management before. Is there anything that you’ve found to be a bit of a trick in coming back from the Western Conference?

RK: Well we almost did nothing, which was probably the trick. We didn’t even see the players; we left them alone on the day we came back at five in the morning there on Sunday night to Monday morning. And then yesterday, we did about a 12- or 13-minute skate in the morning to activate a little bit the hands and bodies. We kept it light as far as video and then brought them in, reeled them in in the evening. But it was actually leaving them alone, making sure they got a lot of sleep and recovery time and that seemed to work. You just need to feel what the group is capable of taking on and I think the momentum out of the Edmonton game, which was really an excellent performance, helped us a lot to get back here in the East and to perform like we did last night.

JW: Linus Ullmark has been just tremendous for you guys of late and last night was not out of the ordinary for him.

RK: No, Linus is really taking a step here this season. Mike Bales, our goalie coach, is doing an excellent job with him psychologically and physically. He worked hard this summer to become more athletic and we can see it in his game, but more than anything it’s his mind and how he’s able to hold a more consistent, aggressive style right through the games and it’s improving. He’s a big part of what’s going on here since — I would say about 11 games now, we’re about 11 games into a stretch where we’ve been pretty consistent with our game. We had that lull of about 10, 11 games after our hot start where we were wandering in and out of our game, but we’re quite pleased with the consistency of performance here. We’re still going to have our off moments, and we’re still going to have times where we need to improve on, but more than anything, Linus is kind of developing like the group in general into a more consistent pattern, which we like and gives us a chance to win every night.

JW: You’re probably going to need both goaltenders down the stretch if you’re going to stay in a playoff race, right now in second in the division. Is your goalie schedule or your percentage of starts per guy, do you have an idea going in? Or is it very much fluid week-to-week? Is it kind of a feeling out process for you being that it’s your first year with both of these guys?

RK: Well no [Carter Hutton] has had some tough breaks of late and he’s such a strong character and he’s an excellent leader in the room and a good voice even as he’s trying to get his confidence and momentum back. We will definitely continue to go game-by-game, whether it’s the forwards, whether it’s the D, you can see we’re making scratches once in a while where we are truly trying to do what’s best for the group for the next game and not thinking much beyond that. So there’s no real long-term plan here, guys; we’re just going to continue to try to put the group together that we think will give us the best chance to stay in the race, and that’s what we need to do against Nashville again tomorrow.

JW: With regard to your defense when doing that, Ralph, you’ve got a rotation, whether it’s Colin Miller in the box one night or Marco Scandella in the box one night. When you’re picking the six that are going to play — six or seven in some cases that are going to dress — how do you go about that? Are you looking at numbers? Are you looking at pairings? Whether or not a pair is meshing? If a pair is meshing, is a guy more likely to stay in and not be bounced out by the rotation? I’m wondering exactly how you’re arriving at each decision that these six are the best on the given night.

RK: Well the complication there has really been that the group has performed it exactly as that: as a group. Nobody has fallen off the map completely. It’s been extremely difficult because we feel there’s a lot of parity there on the D right now and almost any combination will give us a chance. We’re trying to make sure we keep the spirits in the right place, and the rotations have been taken well by the D, whether we play seven — which is never a lot of fun for defensemen in the National Hockey League — or we sit somebody out, they’re all in with the guys. They work out that much harder in the practices if they don’t have a game. Thus far, what we do this morning, we get up early, we come in, our coach’s talk begins with the roster, begins with how we want to come together for Nashville, what group we’re going to pick. There is some stomach behind all of that, some gut decisions that are made. But again, we’re happy with the group, we’re happy with the internal competition, it pushes everybody to look for their A-game every day. And like most things we’re doing here, we really make those decisions on the day.

Sal Capaccio: I know you’re really big into communication and relationships, so how do you approach that with the guys? Because no one wants to sit, obviously. How do you go about a daily conversation with the guys and how all that’s going to play out?

RK: Well Donnie Granato with the forwards and Steve Smith with the D help me in that process so we are always communicating openly with the players before we announce the roster and the lineup and we let the player know that he’s out, if he is, and give him the opportunity to discuss with us the situation; possibly the whys and what could he work on if he has a practice or he’s watching a game instead of playing it. I want to say that the assistant coaches play a huge role there because my day after practice, I run into the media, there’s lots of other group things that I take care of and, individually, I’ve got unbelievable support here in my coaching staff and they communicate very openly. We just lay all the cards on the table. We’re very honest with the guys, we let them know the truth, and we can only hope that they take it the right way — and they have so far — and that they grow from that and they push themselves to be better and make it more difficult for us to take them out next time.

JW: Ralph, how about for Casey Mittelstadt? Had a game up in the press box to kind of look things over. He’s kind of had his struggles this year. You’re talking about you being honest with the guys, what’s your message to Casey and his development at this point?

RK: Well we have to understand when players are 20 or under how much they are learning every single day and how far away they still are from their potential. Casey’s potential is so exciting. His skill and ability as it develops here is a lot of fun to work with. Sometimes taking a breath and sitting out and watching from afar and having a lesser role can be what that player needs for a few days or could be a few games or only one game. It’s all an attitude thing: How do you take that as a player? Do you point fingers all over the place and blame other people or do you look inside and try to get better yourself and learn from it? Casey is looking at what he needs to work on, what he needs to get better on. Donnie Granato is spending a lot of time with him as he grows here day to day. He’s come a long way since the beginning of training camp to understand what it takes to be a centerman in the National Hockey League. He’s spending some time on the wing here and there. There’s a lot coming at you here at a very quick speed. The level of play in the National Hockey League is going up every week right now as everybody is finding their rhythm, finding their games; the challenge is harder and more difficult and so it is for Casey. I just love his attitude. I love his willingness to work and to understand what it’s going to take. Again, it’s just part of the process here. We’ve got a good group of guys and different people will be sitting out on different nights and that’s just a sign of a team evolving in the right direction.

JW: One last (question) before we let you go. I think one good sign about players can grow and become an even better version of what they were is probably Jack Eichel, who continues to club to new heights. This has been a great year for him. He’s got 20 goals already, on pace for over 100 points, which would be a career high for him by quite a bit. I would say Jack Eichel’s a shining example of still getting more out of a player even though he’s been in the league a couple of years.

RK: Jack has 100 percent bought into everything we’re doing here and he’s an example, every shift he works has as anybody. He plays as strongly within the framework that we want to play in here and he’s profiting from it as an individual player, which is interesting him much less than the team success. Off ice, on ice, just an outstanding leader and [I’m] so excited that he’s having personal success, but again, nobody’s really speaking about that. He certainly isn’t. It’s all about the team here. It’s all about us learning how to compete here and to continue to stay in the mix, to stay in the race and to be in the right position in the new year. So that’s the great thing about Jack. It’s a lot of fun working with him. He’s trying to get better still every day, which has got to excite us all. And you can see the minutes he’s playing and the work ethic that he has; it’s definitely paying off for him. But nobody’s giving him this. He’s earning everything. He’s working for everything, and his skill along with that work ethic is an exciting thing to be a part of.

JW: Alright Ralph, best of luck tomorrow against Nashville.

SC: It’s Aud Night.

JW: It’s Aud Night.

SC: I know your playing career and your coaching career wouldn’t have really taken you to the Aud, but do you remember anything about the Aud?

RK: Well I’ll tell you right now that I do not remember anything about the Aud, but I can only tell you that one of my good friends from Europe, Uwe Krupp is here from the ’80s and he’s hanging out with us here for a few days. He coaches over in Prague right now and he’s been a coaching colleague in Europe for decades. He’s one of the biggest fans Buffalo has, I have to tell you. He was one of my first calls when I was offered the job here. It’s good to have Uwe around and all the ’80s guys at the game tomorrow. It will be a lot of fun.

Post-Game Report: 12/10 vs. St. Louis

Final Score

1st 2nd 3rd OT SO Final SOG
1 0 1 2 30
1 1 3 5 33

Game Summary

Event Summary


Top Notes

  • Sam Reinhart opened the scoring just 18 seconds into tonight’s game. It was the Sabres’ fastest goal from the beginning of a game since Johan Larsson scored 18 seconds into a 4-3 victory on Dec. 1, 2016 against the New York Rangers.
  • Jack Eichel scored twice tonight, becoming the third player in the NHL to reach the 20-goal mark this season and extending his career-best point streak to 14 games (12+13). He’s now one game shy of Patrick Kane’s 15-game streak for the longest in the NHL this season.
  • Eichel’s second goal was the 13th empty-net goal of his career, tying Gilbert Perreault and Miroslav Satan for the most empty-netters in Sabres history.
  • With his goal and an assist tonight, Reinhart now has five points (3+2) in his last four games.
  • After recording two assists tonight, Victor Olofsson now has 18 points (6+12) in his last 17 games, including two-point performances in four of the team’s last five games.
  • With a two-point night (1+1), Johan Larsson has recorded his first three-game point streak since November 2016. He now has nine points (2+7) and a plus-9 rating in Buffalo’s last seven contests.
  • Linus Ullmark made 28 saves in the win. He has now stopped 79 of 85 shots (.929) in his three career meetings with St. Louis.
  • Ullmark is now 5-1-1 with a .923 save percentage in his last seven appearances.


Tonight’s Goaltenders

Tonight’s Stats
Team Goaltender Decision GA SA
Blues Allen L 3 31
Sabres Ullmark W 2 30
Updated Season Stats
Team Goaltender Record SV% GAA
Blues Allen 5-2-2 .925 2.33
Sabres Ullmark 9-6-2 .915 2.83


Post-Game Audio

Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger

Sabres forward Jack Eichel

Sabres forward Johan Larsson

Sabres goaltender Linus Ullmark

Blues head coach Craig Berube

Blues forward Troy Brouwer

Blues forward David Perron

Blues goaltender Jake Allen

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard & Jeremy (12/4/19)

December 4, 2019


Ralph Krueger

Howard & Jeremy (8 a.m.)

https://wgr550.radio.com/media/audio-channel/12-04-sabres-head-coach-ralph-krueger-with-howard-and-jeremy (12:59)


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

Ralph Krueger: Good morning, Howard and Jeremy. Good morning, listeners.


HS: Let’s — quick injury update. [Evan] Rodrigues [is] back at practice, so would he be playing on this trip then? Is he cleared to play and would he play on this road trip?

RK: Yeah, Rodrigues is definitely back up to speed and it was good to see him in the group yesterday, but it was his first skate so we’ll be integrating him gradually. But he should be available. We’re going to do one more practice again today, which is a beautiful thing — two practices in two days. We’ll know more after today, for sure, but he’s very close.


HS: And what is the latest on Kyle Okposo?

RK: We’ll we’re so happy to see Kyle back on the ice yesterday. I mean, we all know how much was on the line here with another head injury. We’re pleased to see him back. He felt good yesterday in practice. We’ll be taking it slower with Kyle for sure, but he’s very close, which is good. I mean, these are experienced guys who help in the maturity of the process that we’re in right now. We were all happy to see Kyle on the ice yesterday practicing with us.


HS: And with Rasmus Dahlin, is there a timeline with him? Is he even going on the trip?

RK: Rasmus is not going on the trip. That’s one, also, where we need to be careful on. We’re happy with the progress that he’s making and we’re optimistic that we’ll have him back soon, but we’re going to leave him here for rehab one more week and hopefully he can reintegrate next week.


Jeremy White: Ralph, when it comes to your defense pairings, how do you decide who’s going to go together? Do you have a rhyme or reason? Is it a feeling-out process for you being a coach that’s still just on the job for a few months?

RK: Well when you look at us playing seven (forwards) and 11 (defensemen), which is very rare in the National Hockey League, we’ve had a lot of success with that in this past week. For your listeners, that would mean seven defensemen rotating in seven different pairs. So each player actually has two partners that he goes with, so you can get a seven-pair rotation, if that makes any sense. It’s worked really well for us. It’s kept the group energized. We played an NHL-record five games in seven nights last week and I think that that was testing our fitness and our ability to adjust to that. Getting points right through the week was an extremely positive sign for where we’re at. But it’s definitely, looking at the, you know, right [and] left sticks, but also mixing the offensive and defensive components in those pairs as they come together. The 11 forwards has been interesting too. It’s difficult to match against us because we have a line with [Rasmus] Asplund and [Zemgus] Girgensons that’ll have anybody injected in there. Jack [Eichel] will play with them or you’ll have [Jeff Skinner] in there or other players. So the opposition coach has a little bit of trouble reading us. On the road this week we might stick with that strategy, but we’ll just keep in in the pocket for now.


JW: Yeah, it’s like load management’s a big-time buzz phrase in the sports world, and we’ve talked about it with you about morning skates. You feel like this 7-11, while it might be rare and maybe not ideal or maybe it ends up working out, could it be something that you do employ if it continues to work? Could the NHL largely move this way? There’s some talk about positionless games, where defensemen move around a little bit and the evolution of the game. I just — I wonder about the load management because, as you mentioned, the numbers, the minutes for each of your defenseman has come down.

RK: Well you’ve nailed it right on the head there because the game is evolving in a way where if you watch us play, we work in a group of five all the time and if a defenseman does get ahead of the forwards, [the forward has] got to cover for [the defenseman] and take his spot, and vice versa. A forward could be the first one back in the D-zone and the D-man has to cover up. I think that’s what’s making so exciting right now and so dynamic. It’s brought a lot more speed into the game. In the old days, the D weren’t allowed to go down below the top of the circles and the forwards wouldn’t come back. The wingers would never come back and play down low in their own end, and that’s all off the map now. It’s part of the beauty of the game and it never stops evolving. We need to evolve with it now. The only team that’s used that 7-11 quite a bit, that was Tampa Bay last year, actually, and they ended up with a record season. Watching that example in how Jon Cooper was doing it was one of the things that I thought was interesting. And I’m glad to see it’s one of the tools we have in our box now. We’ll definitely have many games of six (defensemen), 12 (forwards), but dropping back to that depending on injuries and depending on the need and the pace of the games, we can do both, which is good to have different looks going, especially on the road.


HS: It’s interesting, because in years past, Ralph, when it comes to D-pairings, right, we always would be told or hear, “Well you want to be able to lock those guys in. They get to know each other. Communication is better.” All these different things. And yet, when you play seven, I was saying, I haven’t tracked it. Are you — you’re rotating all seven guys? You’re not taking one pairing and saying, “Okay, you two are going to stay together.” What happened to the whole, “Hey, it’s good for these guys to play together”? You’re constantly changing up the pairings in the game. 

RK: Each player only has two partners, right? It’s not as complex as it might sound. But in the end it’s about playing within our principles and within our desired structure. We’ve been speaking weekly now right through the season and we’ve had some ups early on, we had some downs, we’ve kind of settled into a consistent game now. Over the last seven games we feel we’ve been playing quite consistent compared to the first 21, which is a good feeling to have. But a lot of it has to do with when you do have different beside you, your fallback is what the team needs and what the principles and concepts of the team are. I think that this variety at the moment is actually helping us to play more of a team game and eventually you do look for synergies. Now Eichel, [Sam] Reinhart and [Victor] Olofsson have been playing almost the whole season together as a forward line, so we are looking for synergy in other areas or on the power play, which struggled quite a bit lately and is starting to find its legs again. We have been moving bodies in and out. But you’re right, over time you will end up with pairs and lines that have that synergy. But at the moment in our evolution, I think it’s a good thing to be doing.


JW: You mentioned that top line, Ralph. Your patience paid off — Victor Olofsson scoring at even strength. Have you seen anything different in his game that has led to that or did you really think that if everything stayed the same, it would just come eventually?

RK: Yeah, it was just the habits he has are outstanding and he is extremely responsible defensively, too. And what that does is he often is above the puck. When it becomes available to us, Jack and Sam are so good at puck possession, Victor’s outstanding at finding the holes. His shot is a lethal weapon that we’re seeing more and more. It’s his first season in the National Hockey League and we all know that that takes time before you reach your peak, and his peak is still a long way to go so we’ve all — everybody in Buffalo’s got to be really excited about that.


JW: The driver of that line, Jack Eichel, I think a lot of people have noticed this year might be his best year defensively. Maybe buying in a little bit more, doing a little bit more of a 200-foot game. Is there anything specific that you did with him or your conversations with him brought about this change and this, perhaps this next level in that part of his game?

RK: Well, I would go beyond a little bit more; I’d say a lot more. He just really is maturing quickly and understanding what we need in the game. And his offense actually is profiting from it. He’s so well positioned defensively. He’s as quick back into our own end as anybody on the team and understands what his responsibilities are. A lot of our offense comes out of the good defense that we’re playing at times and we can explode the other way with the defense involved, and Jack is just as, again, as strong and as quick as anybody in the league. He uses that now on both sides of the puck and he’s having a lot of fun with it, so we’re really pleased. He’s a leader off the ice, but he’s definitely also an example and a leader on the ice. It’s hard sometimes to believe that he’s only 23 years of age.


HS: You referenced the power play a moment ago. You got a goal the other night, but it had been at, like, a 1-for-37 or something funk. What have the coaches — what have you been telling the power-play units in terms of, is there anything you want to see them do differently to try and get it going again?

RK: What you actually have to stop talking about is scoring because then they squeeze the sticks and think about the end product versus the process to get there and the habits that we need. We got away from some of the habits that are fundamentally important for a good power play and we’re concentrating on those. In the end, it all begins with hard work. If we have struggles in any area of our game, we need to work hard at it, we’re doing video, we’re doing on-ice, we did a couple of practice sessions in the last two practices. We had one goal in the last game that fell two seconds after a PK ended. The power play got some confidence back last game for sure. It always comes back to the fundamentals, guys. It’s about working on those and keeping those in check. We drifted a little bit away from that, but I feel confident that the power play will have a good run here in Canada this week.


JW: One last question for me, Ralph: The sport’s kind of going through a bit of a reckoning when it comes to coaches. I saw the NHL Coaches Association issued a statement about respecting players and maintaining a healthy environment.

HS: And it sounds like the Board of Governors is going to address this Monday at their meeting.

JW: If I may, I would say all that we hear about players that play for you is how much they enjoy playing for you. I just wonder what your feeling is on the culture of the sport, on what it’s like to be a coach, whether it’s a generational change or if it’s the style of person that becomes a coach changes or any of that regarding what the NHL is kind of going through right now.

RK: Well what it’s going to definitely do is influence coaches from here forward and in the future; the accountability will be high. I can only say from my side, I have said a clear statement that I don’t know the facts or the individuals that well, having not been in the NHL over the last few years, so I’m not in a position to judge. All I can do is try and hope that coaches — especially that are coaching kids in and around the Buffalo region — in any sport think about the importance of, number one, respecting the individuals that we’re leading and the importance and understanding of the influence we have on them. I think everybody should be out there trying to catch players doing things right. Whether it’s male or female athletes that we’re leading, let’s try to catch them doing things right. Let’s inspire them to be better. And when we criticize them, let’s make sure it’s part of a sandwich. Let’s give them examples of how they should do things and in between you might make some corrections and then give them support morally again because in the end, I think, treating people right is the most important thing that leaders need to have. If this whole situation now leads to more of that happening, especially with children or with younger athletes, then even this adversity that we’re going through right now will end up being a good thing. We try to create an environment of respect here. Everything’s on the table. We tell the truth, which isn’t always friendly. We don’t just sit in our locker room and tell the players everything is right all the time, and it’s the way we do it that counts in the end. We will continue to work for that environment here in Buffalo with all our hearts in the coaching room.