Krueger: 'We're quite pleased with the consistency and performance here'

December 11, 2019 - 8:53 am
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After a 5-2 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night at KeyBank Center, the Buffalo Sabres find themselves alone in second place in the Atlantic Division with a 15-11-6 record and 36 points in the standings.

Dating back to Sunday, Nov. 24, the Sabres have earned at least a point in eight of 10 games played. That has helped the team rebound from a rough start to November that saw the Sabres go just 1-7-1 in nine games.

However, the schedule does not get any easier for the Sabres to close out the 2019 calendar year with nine games in 20 days, starting with a meeting with the Nashville Predators on Thursday night in Buffalo. From there, the Sabres will play four of the next five games on the road before Christmas, before closing out the month with a home-and-home series with the Boston Bruins and the fourth and final matchup of the year with the Tampa Bay Lightning on New Year's Eve.

Much of the team's recent success has been, in part, due to the performance of some certain individuals, starting with captain Jack Eichel.

The 23-year-old is currently riding the longest point streak of his career at 14 games, just four short of the Sabres' franchise record set by Hall of Famer Gilbert Perreault in the 1971-72 season. In that stretch, Eichel has scored 12 goals and registered 13 assists for 25 points.

Through 32 games this season, Eichel has already scored 20 goals and amassed 44 points, which ranks him third and sixth in those respective categories. He's on pace to score 51 goals this season and collect 113 points, which would give Buffalo its first 50-goal scorer and 100-point scorer in the same season since both Pat LaFontaine and Alexander Mogilny accomplished the feat in the 1992-93 season.

The Sabres have also gotten some great offensive production from rookie winger Victor Olofsson this season. In his first full season with the Sabres, the 24-year-old leads the NHL in goals among rookies (12), and is currently tied with Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar for the most points among rookies (28). Over the last 17 games, Olofsson has picked up at least a point in 14 of those games, picking up six goals and 12 assists.

Other players like Sam Reinhart, Johan Larsson, Kyle Okposo, and Zemgus Girgensons have all picked up some points along the way to help the Sabres back into the playoff picture.

In goal, Linus Ullmark has firmly supplanted himself as the team's No. 1 goalie ahead of Carter Hutton. The 26-year-old has registered a 9-6-2 record in 17 games played this season with a 2.83 goals-against average, a .915 save percentage and a shutout. Ullmark has been very solid as of late for Buffalo, going 7-1-1 over his last nine starts in goal.

Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger has been very happy with his team's turnaround as of late. He joined the Howard and Jeremy Show on Wednesday morning for his weekly appearance to talk about his team's effort, the play of Ullmark and Eichel, and more.

Here is some of what he had to say:

Krueger on what the team needs to work on moving forward:

"We're keeping on the plan, which is to look for growth again today, keep our picture small and get ready for Nashville. More than anything, we need to take with us what we did yesterday and how we closed out that game after the 3-2 goal. We had our best 15 minutes of hockey this season, finishing a game and controlling the scoreboard, and understanding what it takes to bring those kind of games home against a very heavy, hard playing team in St. Louis. I was proud of our finish. There was a lot more to confirm yesterday than to learn from, which was very nice."

Krueger on the play of goalie Linus Ullmark:

"Linus is really taking a step here this season. Mike Bales, our goalie coach, is doing an excellent job with him psychologically and physically. He worked hard this summer to become more athletic, and we can see it in his game. More than anything, it's his mind and how he's able to hold a more consistent, aggressive style right through the games, and it's improving. He's a big part of what's going on here."

"We're about 11 games into a stretch where we've been pretty consistent with our game. We had that lull of about 10-11 games after our hot start where we were wandering in and out of our game, but we're quite pleased with the consistency and performance here. We're still going to have our off moments, and we're still going to have times where we need to improve on, but more than anything, Linus is developing like the group in general, into a more consistent pattern, which we like and it gives us a chance to win every night."

Krueger on coming up with roster decisions for every game:

"Whether it's the forwards, whether it's the [defensemen>, you can see we're making scratches every once in a while where we are truly trying to do what is best for our group for the next game and not thinking much beyond that. There's no real long-term plan here. We're just going to continue to try to put the group together that we think will give us the best chance to stay in the race, and that's what we need to against Nashville again tomorrow."

Krueger on rotating defensemen in and out of the lineup:

"The group has performed exactly as that - as a group. No one has fallen off the map completely. It's been extremely difficult because we feel there's a lot of parity there on the [defense> right now, and almost any combination will give us a chance. We're trying to make sure we keep the spirits in the right place and the rotations have been taken well by the [defense>. Whether we play seven, which is never fun a lot of fun for defensemen in the National Hockey League, or we sit somebody out, they're all in with the guys, and they work out that much harder in the practices if they don't have a game."

Krueger on the play of Jack Eichel:

"Jack has 100% bought in to everything that we're doing here. He's an example every shift. He works as hard as anybody, he plays as strongly within the framework that we want to play in here, and he's profiting from it as an individual player, which is interesting him much less than the team's success. Off-ice, on-ice, he's an outstanding leader. I'm so excited that he's having personal success, but nobody's really speaking about that. He certainly isn't. It's all about the team here. It's all about us learning how to compete here, and to continue to stay in the race and be in the right position in the new year. That's the great thing about Jack. It's a lot of fun working with him. He's trying to get better still every day, which has got to excited us all, and you can see the minutes he's playing and the work ethic that he has. It's definitely paying off for him."

You can listen to the entire interview below:

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