Back on the ice after a nine day layoff with the All-Star break, the Sabres had the intensity of a team ready for a strong second half push toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“I was very surprised with the execution out there,” said head coach Phil Housley. “There wasn’t a lot of bump and grind, a little at the end there, but I liked the execution and speed coming off of eight, nine days.”
Practice is one thing. Playing out the final 34 games and securing a playoff spot is another.
After climbing to the top of the Atlantic Division standings in November, the Sabres’ play tailed off heading into the new year as they dropped 16 of their next 23 games before the break. The key moving forward, according to Zach Bogosian, is playing more consistently.
“I think we just have to string together some good hockey. We know we’re not going to win every single game,” the defenseman said. “Obviously that’s our goal every time the puck drops is to get the win, but playing the right way, playing with what makes us a good team, play to our identity and try to be consistent that way and I think we’ll find more success than not.”
“When I look at our team, I think we look at the 5-on-5 differential. I think that’s going to be very important,” added Housley. “Obviously, our special teams and power play is going to have to contribute, but I think just the 5-on-5 play has got to get better. That’s when we’re really good and at the top of our game.”
The Sabres, despite their struggles, are still in the postseason conversation and currently sit four points back of Pittsburgh for the second wild card spot and are five behind Boston for the first wild card.
Tampa Bay (76 points), Toronto (62 points) and Montreal (61 points) hold the top three playoff spots in the Atlantic standings.
“They believe in each other in that room. They support each other. They’re playing for each other” said Housley. “Obviously, it’s going to be important they become even tighter now because it is going to be tough coming down the stretch here. Every game is meaningful, every shift is meaningful but they have to lean on each other and they’ve done a terrific job of it up to this point.”
“I think it’s important to take the positives out of everything,” added Bogosian. “Is there room for improvement? Of course. I think the first place team would say that.
“That being said, we’re looking forward to the challenge ahead of us. We’re in a decent position right now. I think we just have to keep moving forward and having that mentality of keep climbing every single day, getting better every single day.
”There’s still a lot of hockey left, you know, it goes by pretty quick. But, there are a lot of games and you’ll go through up and downs like the first half, but I just think trying to find that consistecy toward the end.”