Jeff Skinner may be benched against Islanders

The winger skated with taxi squad players on Sunday

(WGR 550) - Jeff Skinner hasn’t scored a goal in 14 games this season, and 18 games overall. Last year in 59 games, he had 14 goals, and in the final 25 games of his 40 goal season he netted four. That gives the left winger 18 goals in his last 98 games. In the season where he netted four goals in his final 25 games, he played with Jack Eichel in every game.

In what really should be no surprise, Skinner played on a line with two taxi squad guys on Sunday, while Casey Mittelstadt took his spot. Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger wouldn’t confirm after practice if Skinner would be benched for Monday’s matchup with the New York Islanders.

“We will continue to analyze what we see and what we feel, and look for the mix that we believe gives us, as a team, the best chance to be successful,” Krueger said. “You saw a potential change in the mix today, we won’t confirm it until tomorrow.”

Krueger has a way he does things and is honest with the players, even if they don’t want to hear it.

“It’s how we function here,” Krueger said. “We look honestly at production, we look honestly at the inputs in and around the team game and try to put that mix in place that gives us a chance.”

Everybody keeps saying to me how soft Krueger is, but there are some players that would disagree.

“I have a lot of respect for the noise certain decisions will make,” Krueger said.”In the end, my role is not to be popular, but to be respected.

“We strive for accountability and getting players to their potential, and in the end that’s my job. When we make decisions, it’s not will they make everybody happy, but hopefully it pushes the right buttons in the individuals to have them fulfill the roles that we expect.”

Skinner has been around the NHL for 10 seasons, and Krueger says the respect for the seniority is there, but accountability has to be a top priority.

Skinner also has some thoughts on that.

“I’m in my 11th year and over 700 games (734), I don’t think I’ve every really felt like I need a day off to really look at things,” Skinner said after Sunday’s practice. “I’ve seen a lot in this league, run through adversity before in my career, and you just keep working and put your head down and that’s what I’ll do.”

Skinner is the first one to tell you that he hasn’t done well in two years dating back to February of 2019.

“I’m not happy with how things have gone so far, but I try to bring a positive attitude to the rink because that’s who I am,” Skinner said. “I think it’s fun to play hockey, and there’s going to be times when it’s more fun and times where it’s going to be challenging.”

Skinner’s philosophy doesn’t just apply to hockey.

“Everybody has it in life and every type of job,” he said. “You go through ups and downs, and when you’re in one of those down slumps you work hard, you work for solutions and work your way out of it.”

Skinner was asked if it’s been hard to get on the same page as Krueger. He paused a long time and took a deep breath during his answer,

”I don’t know. I’ve played for a lot of coaches and I don’t know if it’s that simple,” Skinner said. “I’m going through a bit of a slump, and it’s not something I’m used to.”

It’s human nature to be mad when you’re benched. A player wouldn’t have gotten to the NHL if he wasn’t mad about it, but Skinner said he doesn’t know if that serves a purpose.

“I want to work hard, you try to work smart and think about what ways you can do things differently, how you can support your teammates. If it gets more challenging, you meet the challenge,” he said.

The Sabres are starting to get thin on the blue line as Rasmus Ristolainen is still in Buffalo recovering from severe COVID-19 symptoms. Meanwhile, Jake McCabe and Will Borgen didn’t practice Sunday in New Jersey.

McCabe had his right leg buckle under him in Saturday’s game against the New Jersey Devils. McCabe is back in Buffalo on Sunday getting a MRI. Krueger did not sound optimistic about the injury, saying that his lower-body injury was “serious.”

Borgen got hit in the hand with a shot and was shown on the bench trying to shake it off, but he did remain in the game. It’s possible Borgen may have to miss a game.

“It’s an upper-body [injury] from a shot, so it was better to take the day off today and we see. It truly is day-to-day,” Krueger said.

“We will assess him tomorrow morning and then make the final call on [defense]. We hope to have him back soon, but there is a possibility that he might have to miss one game.”

If Borgen can’t play Monday in Long Island, both Henri Jokiharju and Brandon Davidson would have to play.

With McCabe and Borgen injured, the Sabres added Jacob Bryson and Casey Fitzgerald to the taxi squad.