Jordan Nolan (17) celebrate his first goal Wednesday. ©2017, Hickling Images, Olean Times Herald

Reeling Sabres lacking accountability among players

BUFFALO – Jordan Nolan grew up in a winning culture. The Sabres winger won two Stanley Cups in his first three seasons with the Los Angeles Kings.

To Nolan, the Kings’ accountability helped buoy their success. If you made a mistake or needed a push, someone would tell you.

“If I made a mistake in my fifth year, a higher guy was telling me, ‘You need to work harder, you need to get that puck in,’” Nolan said after scoring two goals in Wednesday’s 5-4 loss to the Minnesota Wild. “Or Jeff Carter told me a few times when I was younger that I need to work harder or my shifts are too long.”

Nolan, a waiver claim during the preseason, sees none of that on the reeling Sabres, who have lost seven straight games (0-5-2).

“We just have to start holding guys accountable, start being honest with ourselves and our teammates,” Nolan said.

Twenty-two games into the season, the Sabres have completely fallen apart. A season expected to be filled with excitement and progress has turned into another dud. Right now, they might be the NHL’s worst team.

Sabres coach Phil Housley usually showcases a calm, measured demeanor following games. But Wednesday’s mistake-riddled loss was still gnawing at him following a closed-door meeting.

Housley, who often accentuates any positives, spoke critically of his team. His answers became more terse as the news conference went on.

After center Jack Eichel opened the scoring 6:55 into the contest, the Wild roared back with three unanswered goals before the crowd of 17,428 inside KeyBank Center.

“It’s a game of mistakes, and it’s decisions and choices at the wrong time of the game,” Housley said. “We get the first goal, all we have to do is continue to stay the course.

What did Housley want to see Wednesday?

“Follow the game plan,” he said. “In the offensive zone, we turn the puck over when we have a D going down the wall, we have a D getting involved in the play down low trying to keep a puck alive in the offensive zone and we don’t cover for the D. It’s these mistakes in the game that are costing us.

“I don’t feel everybody’s on the same page. I think guys are taking things into their own hands and this is the result we’re getting.”

The Sabres, as they often do, battled back, getting to within one goal twice. In the waning seconds, winger Kyle Okposo nearly tied it in close.

Still, that offered only a little consolation for Housley.

“They got to make a decision internally about playing the right way, because right now we’re chasing games,” he said. “I really like the fight that we had until the end.”

Housley wouldn’t comment on what Nolan said about accountability, only saying, “What they talk about in the locker room is their own personal things.”

But Housley, a Hall of Fame defenseman, probably knows accountability’s lacking among his players.

Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly said he usually focuses on his own game when he’s struggling.

“We’re in this together, we’re one group, we’re one team,” he said. “We have to all find a way to help each other out. Even if I’m not at my best, I still have to push someone to be their best and he’ll push me to be my best.”

Chad Johnson wasn’t at his best – the Sabres goalie allowed three early goals, including a weak one to former teammate Tyler Ennis – so Housley yanked him after the first period.

“I didn’t think he had a good game, I didn’t think he had a good first period,” Housley said bluntly.

Johnson said: “We’re not in a situation where we can let in three goals in a game, let alone a period.”

Why did Housley start Johnson, the backup, over Robin Lehner?

“We’re losing games,” Housley said. “We have to make some decisions.”

Nolan’s goals were his first with his new team. Winger Sam Reinhart scored the Sabres’ other goal.

3 thoughts on “Reeling Sabres lacking accountability among players”

  1. Soft players, & a softer coach equal disaster. Eichel is not even a top 20 forward & he runs this circus @ 80 million $. A joke of a franchise, a complete disaster!

  2. Good article. The team is not as bad as they are playing. It seems so easy but obviously teamwork, communication and change are fundamental building blocks of any successful team.

  3. I have never dealt with things like this on a sports team, but have played sports growing up and was a captain on most of the teams I was on, so I understand the dyanamics a little bit, and have dealt with similar situations many times taking over poorly performing stores as a manager and have turned them around.

    If I were Housley I would simply do this:

    After every win, the players vote on their top 3 players of the game. After every loss, the players vote for their bottom 3 players of the game. This is done out loud in front of the locker room and each player has to give a short explanation. This forces them to be upfront and honest with no hiding behind secret votes or secret ballots.

    After wins, the top 3 players get the next practice off. After losses, the bottom 3 players are not allowed to practice and must go help the laundry/equipment guys do mundane tasks like sharpen skates, wash and dry dirty laundry, steam press it, etc. They are those guys aides for that practice. After practice, they get to go do an hour of bag skates. If this isn’t allowed due to some CBA rule, then the players would go sit in a seperate room and write a page long essay about what they will commit to doing better and then have to read it in front of the team after practice. hen go do bag skates for an hour.

    This would quickly reward the players doing well and punish players doing poorly. Nobosy would want to end up in the bottom 3 and have to do that, and especially not repeatedly get called out in front of their teammates. Everyone would want the praise and the days off from practice. This would foster an ultra competetive environment amongst the players and each other and would help them hold each other accountable.

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