The wheels have quickly come off of the Buffalo Sabres’ 2020-21 season, and the team is nearing disaster-level territory. In many fans’ eyes, the team has already reached that point.
Buffalo’s most recent road trip last week began with a 3-2 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, followed by three-consecutive 5-2 losses against the New York Islanders in a four-day stretch.
The Sabres, currently on a seven-game losing streak, sit in last place in the East Division with a record of 6-14-3, good for just 15 points, the lowest total in the NHL. Since returning from the two-week layoff due to COVID-19, the Sabres are just 2-10-1, with both wins coming over the New Jersey Devils, the second-last place team in the East.
With 33 games left in the regular season, Buffalo needs to turn things around in quick fashion, otherwise, it seems more than likely that the team’s decline towards rock bottom will continue.
While games just seem to be getting worse, a small positive from Sunday’s loss to the Islanders is that Jeff Skinner scored a goal. It was his first goal of the season for the Sabres forward in 20 games played.
Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger’s handling of Skinner has been one of the main topics of conversation, and in many cases, concerns, this season amongst fans and media.
Skinner played on a line with Curtis Lazar and Casey Mittelstadt against the Islanders on Sunday, and one will now have to wait and see if Krueger sticks with that trio Tuesday night against the Flyers in Philadelphia.
Tuesday night’s matchup in Philadelphia will be the fifth-straight road game for the Sabres and the last of the team’s current trip. Buffalo will start a three-game homestand later this week, hosting the Penguins in back-to-back games on Thursday and Saturday, followed by a matchup with the Washington Capitals on Monday night.
It’s truly become “sink or swim” time for the Sabres, maybe now more than ever. As the losses pile up, more individuals question the status of Krueger’s job and ponder if or when change will come.
Krueger spoke with Howard Simon and Jeremy White on Tuesday morning during his weekly visit on WGR, shinning light on the recent struggles, how the team is finding positives through the rough stretch, and more.
Here is some of what he had to say:
Krueger on if he’s run out of answers and options:
“Absolutely not. It is astounding how quickly things change within our world of sports. You definitely know you’re alive in the coaching seat, in good times and in bad. It’s hard to believe that 22 days ago I got off of the COVID bed to get back on the bench. What’s happened in these 22 days, and how the season has turned in a negative way is the reality. It’s adversity. But, I’ve been a coach for more than 30 years and faced lots of adversity in my career, in my life, and every single time there’s opportunity in it – if you take the right steps as a leader. We are definitely not out of answers here. We are working on the details. We’re working on the solutions. And there is a lot of growth and learning going on behind the scenes. The group is intact. They’re listening. They’re involved and active. We are very unhappy with the results, and it is understandable that people are unhappy who’re fans of ours and supporters of ours. But, our job is to continue to find solutions, and that’s what we’re doing here.”
Krueger on if he’s feeling pressure or “running out of time”:
“I took this job because it was difficult. I took this job because I knew it was not going to be an easy task. I took this job because I knew I would grow, learn and develop again as a leader. We are definitely in a darker, cloudy kind of setting at the moment. Again, I was aware of the challenges. I was aware of the job that needs to be done here; how hard it is to drive a culture into an organization where there’s been so much change. To get the right habits, whether it’s in practice, whether it’s off the ice, whether in the game, and the details that this game at the level of the NHL and the competition we have this year needs. I still love the process. I’m happy to be in Buffalo. I believe in the potential of the organization and the team, and I continue to work along the same path. But, I’m here because I like difficult things on my plate, and not because I’m afraid of them. If you’re afraid of that you couldn’t be in this role in the first place. Trust me, guys, I’m still working, coaches are working the players are listening, and we are trying.”
Krueger on keeping things focused on the positives despite not getting positive results:
“Positive is about working towards betterment, working towards solutions, working towards improvement, and also finding solutions. Yes, we have solutions. We see our inconsistencies. We see moments like the first period [on Sunday against the Islanders] where everything didn’t go down the path we wanted. We give up a goal against, we desert the details, we desert the process, and we get hammered and learn from it. Hopefully, we’ll come out stronger in this game [Tuesday night in Philadelphia] and take it 60 minutes, because of that lesson. But, we aren’t a happy group. It’s been a difficult return since [the two-week break due to] COVID, and for some reason, the lack of consistency has truly overtaken what happens. Our inability to deal with adversity within the game is something we’re addressing and trying to improve on. There’s a cultural change that’s happening here in the background. I’m telling you the truth when I tell you that this group is trying, and that they’re working, and they’re engaged. We expect results to follow here. Words are cheap right now, for anyone listening, they’re saying it’s a lot of talk, but there is actually stuff going on in the background. Only on the ice can we reveal the improvement, and we need to do it quickly.”
Krueger on Rasmus Dahlin and if he has a “green light”when out on the ice:
“We’re pleased with his offensive side. Everybody knows when you’re that talented, the game without the puck is where you have to do your work, and your homework. It’s enjoyable to coach Rasmus. We see growth. He needs to involve himself, wholeheartedly, with retrievals and transitions so we can get pucks back. We need to play defense first, but once we get [the puck], he’s as dangerous as anybody. He runs our power play from the back end. Again, he’s a special, special player, and it’s up to us as coaches to teach him the game without the puck and make him a solid defensive player at the same time. It’s a process, but I think we’re coming down a good road with him.”
Krueger on Victor Olofsson and needing more from him in 5-on-5:
“He’s a terrific player on the power play and lethal from his spot. What we need to do is get him into those grittier situations more, push him to the net-front, because that shot’s just not available [playing] 5-on-5. His speed is elite, and we need him to use that speed in transition to push [opposing defenders] back, aggressively. It is something we’re truly working on. He needs to play a different game five-on-five than on the power play. Sometimes it takes a while; it’s his second season in the National Hockey League. But, he’s starting to find those holes and those spots. We expect more production out of him there in the near future.”
You can listen to the entire interview below: