Jack Eichel (15) bumps with Montreal's Paul Byron on Friday. ©2018, Hickling Images, Olean Times Herald

Phil Housley calls out Sabres’ leadership group following loss to Canadiens

BUFFALO – For the Sabres, the NHL’s worst team, any minor success is usually fleeting. A bad period quickly overshadows the good one.

For the opening 20 minutes Friday, the Sabres responded strongly after two home losses, following their game plan and pumping pucks on net.

Then they started freelancing following a scoreless first period, fell behind and lost 3-0 to the hapless Montreal Canadiens.

Watching it all happen again angered Phil Housley so much the rookie coach called out his top players for the first time all season.

“Even though it’s 1-0 game, there’s still plenty of time to go in the game, and again we’re forcing things that aren’t there and we fed it to them,” Housley said. “It wasn’t anything that Montreal did, it’s what we didn’t do once again.

“I think it’s about time our leadership group stood up now. I challenged them yesterday, definitely wasn’t the response I was looking for.”

The leadership group – the Sabres have four alternate captains and no captain – has done zilch recently. The Sabres have scored once during their three-game losing streak.

Of course, they generated some terrific chances Friday. But center Ryan O’Reilly couldn’t convert three glorious opportunities. Then trailing 1-0 in the third period, they mustered only two shots during a 1:06 two-man advantage against the league’s 30th-ranked penalty killers.

“If you look at the percentages, the teams that score on their five-on-threes usually have good success,” Housley said. “That was a perfect time for us. Lack of execution, lack of sticking with the game plan as far as what we’re looking for five-on-three.

“Some guys like to put things in their own hands and think that’s going to work. Well, it hasn’t.”

Housley was clearing talking about center Jack Eichel, who zoomed into the slot and shot the puck instead of setting up on the two-man advantage.

O’Reilly, meanwhile, missed a prime chance on the five-on-three.

“I had a couple chances to tap pucks in and didn’t,” O’Reilly said of his night. “Those were the sparks we needed, it would’ve helped us take over the game, but it didn’t happen. I got to be better. It’s my fault there were some money chances to score and get us going and didn’t.”

Canadiens goalie Antti Niemi, who’s on his third team this season, recorded his first shutout. None of his 35 saves before the crowd of 18,594 inside KeyBank Center were notable.

O’Reilly said the Sabres “definitely beat ourselves tonight.”

“They didn’t do anything special,” he said. “We just missed the chances, didn’t handle the puck the way I wanted to tonight, I think the other guys felt the same. It’s almost embarrassing. We could’ve at least made a game of it.”

The Sabres could’ve won the game if they simply kept playing the style they showcased early. Instead, the Canadiens, who snapped a four-game losing streak, earned just their 10th road victory this season.

“We had the start we wanted,” said Housley, whose team held an early 10-2 shot advantage. “That’s the response we were looking for. We came out and we played a really solid first period and just stuck with the game plan and got pucks to the net. We hit a crossbar, it’s just where we’re at right now as far as scoring.

“But then in the second period, we get away from it. That’s the thing I’ve talked about in the past about handling that success. We have good success, recognize what we get and then we totally get away from it, and then we’re forcing pucks and turning pucks over. We have a little bit of cheat in our game, we’re on the wrong side and that’s what happens.”

Winger Jason Pominville said the Sabres “have to look at ourselves.”

“Sometimes it might feel like we’re working, we think we’re doing the right things, but I don’t think we are,” he said. “That’s why we’re getting those results. If you want to win consistently, you can’t play that way for a long period of time.”

Winger Artturi Lehkonen scored 4:56 into the second period. Wingers Paul Byron, a former Sabre, and Brendan Gallagher added empty-net goals.

Goalie Linus Ullmark made 21 saves for the Sabres, who play a road tilt tonight against the New York Rangers.

3 thoughts on “Phil Housley calls out Sabres’ leadership group following loss to Canadiens”

  1. It’s high time the Sabres players placed the team first, and their egos (and trying to take things into their own hands when instant results aren’t forthcoming) second. All the talent in the world means nothing when individuals think they know better than the coach. A few years ago the NY Rangers amassed a roster of stars, yet never rose above average. Why? Same basic problem . Players doing their own thing. It is the same reason why I dislike the overtime and shootout format used in tie games. Hockey is a team sport first, yet a shootout is a one on one situation. If these rules aren’t considered good enough for playoff hockey , why are they being used during the season? I despise the trapezoid behind the net, because it was a rule change aimed at 1 or 2 particular goalies (Martin Brodeur). We need hockey played as a team first.
    What is maddening is this pattern has gone on for more than a season with the Sabres. Where is the pride, in a team that historically has been successful ? One would think the players would have learned by now individualism and lackadaisical effort doesn’t work. They ought to be embarrassed. There’s a reason they are cellar dwellers in league standings. Saying the right things in an interview is fine, but meaningless if there is no change in the way they approach the game. Phil Housley has his work cut out for him. Time to start making those who fail to perform uncomfortable. We need players that show up every game, as in so doing they will obtain the respect, and consequently the authority to call out those who are not.

  2. I want to make it clear I am totally one hundred percent behind Jack Eichel. But ever since Jack came off his injury I’ve noticed something about his game and his posture. He doesn’t seem to play with urgency like he was earlier. Even with interviews after games he is lackadaisical and seems uninspired. And although this should make some fans and media members, who know nothing about playing sports , happy it disturbs me. Some say that when Jack was calling out players and making comments that were true but perhaps abrasive was Eichel being “immature”. I say hogwash. Jack needs to keep that fiery competitiveness. He needs to keep “hating to lose”. If he loses that then the Sabres are doomed because he is the only bonafide player on this team that has pure talent.

    Also if a problem exists between Jack and Ryan O’Reilly then Botterill/Housley better fix it before next season. If there is a fissure on this team caused by those two then one has to be moved in order to solidify and unify the locker room.

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