Housley: 'Our margin of error is very slim'

March 12, 2019 - 10:46 am
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The Buffalo Sabres made it four straight losses on Saturday after coming out flat in Denver, Colorado in a 3-0 shutout loss to the Avalanche. The Sabres have also lost nine straight games on the road, and have not won away from Buffalo since January 29 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Yet, the biggest storyline from this recent loss is centered around captain Jack Eichel, who was suspended for two games after in illegal check to the head of Avalanche forward Carl Soderberg. After a hearing on Sunday with the National Hockey League’s Department of Player Safety, it was determined that Eichel’s check on Soderberg was illegal because he stepped in front of Soderberg to initiate the hit, while Soderberg made no direct change in direction.

At practice on Monday, both Eichel and Sabres head coach Phil Housley expressed their displeasure with the NHL's decision on the suspension. On Tuesday, Housley reiterated his sentiment with Jeremy White and Sal Capaccio on WGR.

“No I don’t agree with the decision,” Housley said during his weekly appearance. “Obviously they made a decision, we have to live with it. We’ve got to move forward. It’s difficult because Jack is doing a terrific job leading by example—trying to do the right thing throughout this year. Nobody can question his work ethic and what he means to our team, but, at the same point, we just have to live with it.”

With Eichel excluded from the lineup on Tuesday against the Dallas Stars and Thursday against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the team had Casey Mittelstadt playing center on the first line with Jeff Skinner and Jason Pominville on Monday.

The Sabres looked to Rochester for some roster help, recalling forward Alex Nylander from the Americans on Sunday. At practice, Housley had the 21-year-old winger playing on a line centered by Evan Rodrigues and Conor Sheary on the opposite wing.

“Well we’re going to give him an opportunity,” Housley said. “He’s done a great job in his development, and we’d like to see him continue to do [what he’s done] when he was with Rochester. He’s been attacking the game, he’s been shooting the puck more, he’s been creating offense. So he’s going to get an opportunity.”

The Sabres only had 18 shots on goal in, arguably, one of their worst performances of the 2018-2019 season on Saturday, so Nylander could provide a spark for the team. The lack of passion from the blue and gold as of late could come from the fact that they have slid far out of playoff contention. However, in a similar position to the Sabres, Colorado played with a much higher level of tenacity.

“You have to understand where your opponent’s at,” stated Housley. “They just loss to Dallas the previous game 4-0, so we knew they were going to come out strong. And just the position they’re in, and we’re in, I think their desperation rose to another level. They pressured us, they were on us, they were on top of us, and we didn’t execute early. And we need to execute early against a team like that. We didn’t get out of our zone; we didn’t support each other through the neutral zone. We didn’t make the right choices, and then it’s coming back after us. Obviously, Carter Hutton bailed us out.”

Both of the Sabres goaltenders have struggled this past year, but, at times, they do keep the team in games. The narrative of the team’s issues follows two paths: they either fall apart defensively, or they are non-existent on offense. The inconsistency on both ends of the ice has led to the collapse of another Sabres season that looked so promising after their 10-game win streak in November. In almost every game they play, the Sabres have the opportunity to get the win, but have fallen short more often than not.

“Just since the All-Star break, the last 20 games, 16 of those games it was even , or a one-goal game going into the third, whether we’re on the right side of it or on the other end of it, being down one goal, so the margin of error of those games was very critical,” said Housley. “Whether we were down one or we were up one, we weren’t able to close out the game, or we made a critical mistake at the wrong time. In those games, our record was 6-11-3. We’ve been in games where it’s been tied and we found a way to win, [or] whether we had a one goal lead and made a critical mistake. So from that point after the All-Star game, we’ve been in the game, but our margin of error is very slim.”

Unfortunately, the Sabres have made too many of those critical mistakes. The question still lingers over why the team has such sudden and untimely collapses. They went from a team that was able to either bounce back from ugly losses, or have been able to close out games that they were still in, to a team that has handed over games in the second and third period. What has changed from the Sabres of October-November to the Sabres post-All-Star break, and why?

“When we came into the season, starting at training camp, we focused on a couple areas [checking detail, 5-on-5 differential], and we built the belief,” recalled Housley. “We had some wins and losses before we went on the 10-game win streak. From that point, I think we deviated from that belief, and now we’re going through a stretch that the trust in what we did—it’s challenged. The adversity, the mental toughness, that’s being challenged. That’s what our challenge moving forward is: it’s still relying on what we built early on and staying with it.”

You can listen to the entire interview below:

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