This past weekend was about as disastrous as you can get for the Buffalo Sabres just 19 games into a shortened 56-game season.
The Sabres looked completely lifeless in 120 minutes of hockey against the Philadelphia Flyers, where they were out-shot 77-51, out-chanced 112-94, and outscored 6-0 in two separate 3-0 losses on Saturday and Sunday afternoon at KeyBank Center.
Sitting at 6-10-3 with just 15 points in a tough East Division and with 37 games left in the 2020-21 season, it's hard not to look at Buffalo's season already feeling completely lost.
If the Sabres are to turn the course of the season around to get back in the fight for a top-four spot in the division, that effort will have to start on Tuesday night against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Tuesday's matchup for Buffalo will kick-start a five-game road trip, which features a three-game series with the New York Islanders from Thursday to Sunday, and another game with the Flyers next Tuesday in Philadelphia.
The schedule will also not get any easier for the Sabres going forward, with the team playing a stretch of 19 games in 33 days before getting more than a day off between games. On top of that, Buffalo has yet to face either the Boston Bruins or Pittsburgh Penguins through the first part of the season.
Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger knows that his team's performances over the weekend was not what they expect on any given night. He understands that the season has not gone as expected, but the group must push through in order to find success and start to string together some wins.
Krueger took some time on Tuesday to join Howard Simon and Jeremy White for his weekly visit on WGR. He addressed some of his team's issues from this past weekend, plus more on the progress of Jeff Skinner since returning to the lineup and more.
Here is some of what he had to say:
Krueger on what happened to the Sabres' season:
"Quite clearly we haven't won enough games. Our job, as coaches, is to look at why? Why games are slipping away from us? What we can do better defensively, how we can attack to create more offense. It's the same process that you're used to as an experienced coach is to get the guys focused on improvement. I don't like to list excuses. What has happened is in the past, and we need to take responsibility for the results. It's the results that we're working on now."
"We definitely came out of the COVID pause planning for the next 10 games being at .500 and we missed that mark. It'll be important to turn the tides today, but clearly we lost our way after the COVID break with bodies coming in and out. Systematically, we seemed to have lost our rhythm and our focus on the things that really make us a good team. I can only tell you that we are working hard together, the players and coaches, to get this thing back on track, to get it right, to have our spectators enjoying the way we play. We certainly are not pleased with our execution on both sides of the puck right now, and it needs to improve tonight."
Krueger on finding ways to score more goals:
"We need to retain the strength of our game, which is keeping the goals-against down, but we certainly need to find 5-on-5 scoring. Our power play has been outstanding this season and usually it's the engine of your offense, but it hasn't ignited that 5-on-5 game. We will be trying all kinds of different angles today here to get that going."
"It is about gritty goals now. We need to get some gritty goals. That, for me, is the way we need to think. The perfect plays and the pretty goals, they happen when you have confidence and when you have flow, when you're in the groove offensively. We need to look at what everybody knows as ugly goals, the second chances in front of the net. Somebody getting called on an interference on the goalie versus trying to make plays from the wall."
Krueger on his interactions with Jeff Skinner since his benching:
"We communicate, and have been communicating in a really constructive way. He was very good, very professional with the decision we made to give him some space, to watch the game from the outside, to get some coaching. We've been communicating, we look each other in the eyes every day, and we're working towards solutions. We want the best version of Jeff Skinner. Nothing more and nothing less. We want that, and Jeff wants that. Sometimes these kind of disruptions are not understandable to everyone from the outside, but I believe disruptions are what needs to happen at times and they may prove to be the right decision. But no, there's no disconnect."
Krueger on how to get Skinner scoring goals again:
"Good teams in this league have depth scoring, and Jeff Skinner is a classic 5-on-5 scoring. The opportunities have been there, and his scoring chances have been there. For me, it's about breaking that waterfall open for him. We injected him with Eichel... and he got some extra shifts in at the end of the first period. We are moving him around, trying to get him going, and we will continue to do that. We need every line to be effective."
Krueger on the struggles of Victor Olofsson at even strength:
"The best to do when you're in a situation like his is simplify and overshoot. It's as simple as that. He is getting into shooting opportunities, possibly trying to overpass, strangely not taking his power play confidence into his 5-on-5 game. Like with everybody right now who has stalled 5-on-5 on scoring, we're trying to keep them focused on the process and the habits that get them there, and not so much specifically only on the scoring."
Krueger on the team's goaltending situation going forward:
"Goaltending has not been our problem here. If you look at these last two games, we were in 1-0 games, in tight games halfway through, and just weren't able to produce offensively. That puts a lot of pressure on the back end, on the goalies. It's not our problem at the moment at all. I thought 'Hutts' [Carter Hutton] and 'J.J.' [Jonas Johansson] played well this weekend. 'Hutts' is a great leader. He's unbelievable with the puck; it's almost like having another [defenseman] out there. We enjoy working with this group."
Krueger on how the Pegulas are feeling about the team's recent struggles:
"The communication between ownership, Kevyn [Adams] and myself is extremely strong. They are nothing but supportive, and their hearts are beating so strongly for us to do well and to give city and the fans what they deserve. I can only say that every time I'm communicating with the Pegulas, I come off with energy, I come off with encouragement and support. It's just a terrific organization to work for, and it all begins at the top."
You can listen to the entire interview below: