Sabres have to play with more passion

February 18, 2018

The Buffalo Sabres came out flat for the first 40 minutes of their game with the Los Angeles Kings at KeyBank Center on Saturday afternoon. Buffalo was out-shot 30-17 in the first two periods of play while surrendering four goals against, three of them coming in the second period.

The Sabres responded in the third period with two goals and 18 shots on goal, but the comeback effort was too little, too late in a 4-2 loss.

Buffalo's start to the game was an issue once again against the Kings, with just two shots on goal in the first 10 minutes of play, and a stretch of nearly nine straight minutes without a single shot on goal into the second period. Sabres head coach Phil Housley was not pleased with the results, and knows that his team needs to get off to a better start in games.

"You look at the statistics - it's a 4-2 game and the game was over after the second period," Housley said after practice on Sunday. "We reviewed the things we need to improve on, but certainly being ready at the start of the game is one of them."

Defenseman Nathan Beaulieu struggled throughout most of the afternoon on Saturday. He was on the ice for three of the four goals against in the game, and was bumped down to the third defensive pairing with Justin Falk for the third period.

While his performance lacked overall from the start, the entire group couldn't seem to figure things out until the game was already out of reach. The overall team performance frustrates Beaulieu, knowing that they had played so well against some of the better teams in the NHL prior to Saturday's debacle.

"It's frustrating in the fact that playing teams like Tampa and Boston, [we were] playing so well, and then I don't know what it is," Beaulieu said. "We come back to our home ice and let the game slip away from us in the first 30 minutes of the game. It's extremely frustrating. Even though we had a push in the third, it doesn't matter. This league's too good. You can't win a hockey game in the third period, it takes a full-60. We need to clean it up and be ready tomorrow because we have another good hockey team coming in."

Beaulieu understands that he and his teammates need to get off to a better start, and that they need a quicker response to a goal against than they did against the Kings.

"You have to be engaged in the game," Beaulieu said. "You look at L.A., a team that's looking to make a big push and that's made some moves and are trying to sneak into the playoffs, and you know how well they play in the playoffs. They're a heavy team, and we just didn't come out ready to play. I think it starts in the dressing room mentally, and when we get out there physically too, we have to get engaged earlier."

The 25-year old defenseman is currently in his first season with the Sabres, and has struggled out of the gate with just a goal and six points in 41 games played this season. Last season with the Montreal Canadiens, Beaulieu set career-high stats with four goals, 24 assists and 28 points in 74 games played.

In Montreal, the Canadiens had some considerable success with their fast and aggressive style of play, and stepped up their game when they smelled blood in the water. So far in Buffalo, the same type of play and success has been hard to come by.

"We were a team (in Montreal) that tried to jump on other teams because we were so fast and quick at the Bell Centre, trying to get the crowd behind you," Beaulieu said. "It seems like [here] we can't get our crowd behind us. They're there, they're cheering, but when you go down that early and get booed off the ice, it doesn't sit well."

In the past, Sabres forward Evander Kane has said that the team needs to play with more of a "F-you mentality" and be more willing to play with an edge to their game. Beaulieu echoed that sentiment on Sunday as he feels the team needs to play with more of a pissed off mindset.

"That's the mindset we have to have going into the game," Beaulieu said. "It's not something that you can teach or you can't just get pissed off. We just have to have that mindset and it shouldn't have to take four goals against and your goalie getting pulled to start that feud. It's furstrating, but the only thing you can do is learn from it."

"Passion and emotion are great tools," Housley added to that. "I think we have to have more emotion, I think we have to play with more passion. I thought we had a really good game against Washington the last time we played in here. We're going to try to use some of those examples of why we played the way we did and we have to prepare that way. We have to control what we control, and that's how we prepare individually, as a group and as a coaching staff to get ready to play."

The Washington Capitals come to Buffalo on Monday following a 7-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night. The Capitals currently sit atop the Metropolitan Division standings, just one point ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins and five in front of the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils.

Washington is a team that has been up and down lately, going 5-3-2 in their last 10 games, and could use a win on Monday to better themselves in the standings with the Penguins hot on their tail. Sabres defenseman Casey Nelson knows that the team will need a better start against Washington if they want to come away with another win over a top team in the league.

"I think we just have to start off on the right track, stick to our game right away," Nelson said. "The first two periods we weren't getting the pucks behind their [defensemen] and setting up a forecheck. That's where you have to put a team early on in the game."

With the NHL Trade Deadline just eight days away, the Sabres' locker room could go through a shake up as they continue to re-tool for the future. Housley does not want outside distractions affecting how his team plays and prepares for a game night in and night out. 

"I feel we have to focus on what we can control, and that's getting ready to play Washington who, after their loss yesterday to Chicago, they're going to be ready to respond," Housley added. "That's the thing we can control is the how we approach tomorrow, and how we prepare today to get ready for Washington."

The Sabres took part in an optional skate on Sunday morning with Robin Lehner, Evander Kane, Kyle Okposo, Rasmus Ristolainen, Victor Antipin and Benoit Pouliot as the only players not participating. Housley was also not on the ice for practice as assistant coaches Tom Ward and Andrew Allen running Sunday's session.

The Sabres and Capitals will face off from KeyBank Center on Monday at 3 p.m. Pre-game coverage on WGR with Pat Malacaro starts at 2 p.m. following the John Murphy Show. Be sure to tune in to hear from Paul Hamilton, as well as Housley, Nelson and Beaulieu from the locker room.