Chicago, Ill. (WGR 550) – Buffalo Sabres head coach Don Granato didn’t bother with line rushes at practice on Saturday. The team practiced at top speed for the duration, and he wanted to see them fast and direct.
The Sabres didn’t get their full game together on Friday in Winnipeg until the third period. The problem was, they were down by two goals and could only push one past Connor Hellebuyck.
Granato was angry after the Jets game, because he knew the opportunity to get two points was there. The Sabres aren’t playing to their capabilities, and he let them know it.
"The compete level was high, and I think we have some guys not satisfied with where things are at. So I’ll take that as a positive," Granato said after practice on Saturday.
As far as getting his team to play fast, Granato says there was a lot more intensity, which is what the group needs to see.
"When I say 'we,' it’s collective," he said. "I think the guys take it to heart, and they set the standard. They certainly elevated it, and all that we need to elevate."
The message was received loud and clear, according to defenseman Connor Clifton.
"He expects more, and we expect more from ourselves," said Clifton on Saturday. "We heard it in the second intermission, because we were not playing the way we can, and I loved the response.
"I thought the third was one of our best periods of the year, and when we figure out how to play that way consistently, I think we’re going to be a really hard team to beat."
Buffalo played a very sound defensive game in the first period against the Jets, and limited them to almost nothing. Usually when the Sabres are that committed, they turn that defense into offense. However, it didn’t happen, and Granato knows why.
"Not surprised, because I thought we needed to be just as decisive offensively, and that’s a shot mentality," Granato said. "I think there was a couple situations where we had odd-man situations, and our primary focus was on the pass, pass across, and we’re staring at an opportunity at the net. And that is a barometer of, is the player decisive? Where is his attention being drawn? Is it drawn laterally as he’s approaching the net, or is it drawn right to the net? And again, I felt we were not doing things that were indicators of being decisive offensively. Our attention has been diverted more to our defense, and the positive is we’re getting better there. Now we’ve got to recognize that we need to be more decisive offensively."
Sabres defenseman Erik Johnson has heard many coaches talk about their team not playing up to a standard.
"[Granato] said what needed to be said, and we’ll keep that in the room. But what he said definitely resonated," said Johnson on Saturday. "It was just, 'Go get it and stop waiting for somebody else to do it. You’re not guaranteed anything in this league, so you have to earn it every day. It’s not going to always be perfect, but put forth your best effort and see what we can do.'"
Right near the end of practice, Peyton Krebs went down to block a shot and was trying to skate it off as practice ended. Granato didn’t have an update, but I did ask him if he wants players doing that in practice risking injury.
"It’s a habit you’ve got to build. For that reason I don’t mind it, but you definitely don’t want a guy hurt out at practice," Granato said.
Sabres defenseman Henri Jokiharju is feeling better, and Granato expects him to play Sunday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen had the net by himself on Saturday, which almost always means he’ll start the next game in goal.