Sabres looking find some consistency in their game

November 21, 2017
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The Buffalo Sabres have hit a rut in their game and are currently riding a six-game losing streak. Buffalo will look to break out of their slump on Wednesday night when they host the Minnesota Wild at KeyBank Center.

On Monday, the Sabres fell behind 3-0 to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the third period, and had played a relatively conservative game for the first 50 minutes of hockey. In the final eleven minutes of play, Buffalo got goals from Sam Reinhart and Evander Kane to pull within one, and also stepped up the pressure with six shots on goal and more than a dozen shot attempts on goal.

Buffalo nearly tied the game in the two minutes of play on a powerplay, but a puck that had thought to have gone in was deemed inconclusive and the Sabres fell short to the Blue Jackets.

The Sabres have struggled with playing a consistent game for 60 minutes of hockey. The last time they got a full 60 minutes from the team, it resulted in a 2-1 win over the Washington Capitals on November 7th. That win happens to be the Sabres' last win before starting their current losing streak.

Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges understands that to play a consistent 60 minutes of hockey, the team needs to get in the right state of mind and be on the same page from start to finish.

"It's just a mindset. It's a matter of being ready from the start, knowing that we don't have the luxury of taking off a period, taking off five minutes or having dips in the game. It's gotta be a consistent effort and mindset throughout the game," Gorges said following practice on Tuesday.

"It's just a mindset of taking the positives out of that third period and controlling how we can play when our back is against the wall," echoed defenseman Jake McCabe. "Our back is against the wall right now, so we need that mentality throughout the whole 60 minutes. It starts from the first faceoff, and we have to keep rolling them over and building off each other."

So far through 21 games this season, the Sabres are averaging the fewest goals per-game at 2.29 goals, while averaging the fourth-highest goals against per-game at 3.48 goals. The Sabres have also not generated too many shots on goal, averaging 30.4 shots per-game. In games where the Sabres generate more than 30 shots a night, they are 5-3-4. In games where they've generated less than 30 shots, Buffalo is an astounding 0-9-0.

Minnesota comes in playing better than when they first started the season, and have earned points in five of their last six games. While their offense has been on and off at times this season, goalie Devan Dubnyk has been very good in net lately with four wins in his last five starts, a 1.60 goals against average and a .941 save percentage.

If the Sabres are going to want to snap their six-game losing streak, they will need to come prepared to play that complete game from start to finish.

"They're a good hockey team. They're deep, they play a well-rounded game," Gorges said. "We know that we have to be sharp. We don't have the luxury of having a let down, especially against a team like Minnesota. We have to be prepared to grind out a win for 60, maybe 65 minutes tomorrow."

"We just have to win. [That's the] bottom line at this stage of this season, and especially with the amount of games that we have coming up," McCabe said. "We've been playing six [games] in nine nights, we've got three in four coming up so tomorrow night's a big two points for us. Hopefully it'll carry us into the weekend."

This game against Minnesota also holds some meaning for Sabres defenseman Marco Scandella and forward Jason Pominville, as it will be the first time that they face their former team since this summer's trade that sent Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno to the Wild.

Scandella has been looking forward to this matchup against some of his old friends for some time.

"It'll be a little weird playing against my old team, but I'm very excited about it," Scandella said. "It's definitely been a day that's been marked on my calendar.

"It'll be a little emotional. I still have a lot of friends on that team, they're all friends. I may be going to dinner with them, so it will be nice to see everybody and catch up a little bit."

Sabres head coach Phil Housley knows a thing or two about playing against former teams following a trade. The hall of fame defenseman had been traded five times in his career, including the move back in 1990 when the Sabres traded him to the Winnipeg Jets as part of a deal for Dale Hawerchuk. Housley imagines that the emotions will be present on both sides for this game, especially for Ennis, Foligno and Scandella who were involved in their first trades this offseason.

"Well the first one is always the toughest because it gets to be very emotional," Housley said following practice. "I bet it'll be very emotional for the guys that are on Minnesota that will be coming to Buffalo because you're playing in your own rink. If you're doing it on the road, it's one thing but when you're playing back at home it's very difficult. It'll be emotional, there's a lot of ties for [Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno] in Buffalo. There's a lot to prove for Marco and [Pominville]. Coming back to the team that [Pominville] started with, and Marco wanting a new opportunity. It's an emotional part of the game that people don't realize, it's very tough, but I'm sure those guys will fight through it."

As for Gorges, getting the chance to play against Ennis and Foligno will be a good chance to catch up since the trade in June. Although, Gorges doesn't intend to give an inch on Wednesday when his former teammates step on to the ice with him.

"It's always kind of fun to play against former teammates," Gorges said. "You become good friends with these guys; they're no longer on your team, but you remain friends and that's what's so great about this game. We'll go out there, we'll compete and those two guys are competitors. They're going to play hard, there's going to be some battles and then afterwards you're gonna go shake their hands and see how they're doing. It'll make for a fun game."

On the injury front, Jacob Josefson was practicing with the team again and taking part in line rushes for the first time since suffering a lower-body injury on October 15th against the Anaheim Ducks. Josefson was centering a line that featured Jordan Nolan on his left and Kyle Okposo on his right. 

After practice on Tuesday, Housley said that there's a possibility he could return to the lineup on Wednesday.

"We're gonna see how he reacts to practice," Housley said. "Thought he looked really good out there with a lot of speed."

With all of the injuries that have riddled the Sabres for the first 21 games of the season, Housley is looking forward to getting another depth forward back in action for his hockey club.

"I think [it's] that stabilization down through the middle," Housley said. "[He's] somebody you can trust to play in any situation, especially on our penalty kill. He can relieve some minutes off our top guys, provide speed, and positionally is one of the best on our team; just knows where to be in situations in the offensive and defensive zone. He's very reliable."

Here's a look at the lines from Tuesday's practice:


Forwards:

Kane - Eichel - Pominville

Pouliot - O'Reilly - Reinhart

Girgensons - Larsson - Criscuolo

Nolan - Josefson - Okposo


Defense:

Scandella - Falk

McCabe - Antipin

Gorges - Beaulieu


Seth Griffith, Matt Moulson and Casey Nelson all participated in practice as the extra skaters.