BUFFALO – At times in his first full NHL season, the pressure to perform overwhelmed Sabres center Peyton Krebs and he struggled to reach his own expectations.
In late November, Krebs sat out four contests as a healthy scratch. He scored his first goal in his 20th outing and had a 26-game goal drought before receiving credit for a fluky one in the season finale.
“I had my ups and downs, for sure,” Krebs said April 16 as the Sabres held end-of-season meetings in KeyBank Center. “Coming into this season, I had a lot of high expectations for myself.”
Krebs, 22, said he settled down and began carving out a role as the third- or fourth-line center between captain Kyle Okposo and Zemgus Girgensons by going back “to little details in my game.”
“I found a role and I’m just trying to excel that into next year and keep gaining the trust of the organization,” he said. “I had a lot of fun.”
That role has become a checking one. On the surface, Krebs’ season looks a bit underwhelming. His offensive numbers don’t illustrate much growth. In 74 games, he registered nine goals and 26 points. In 48 contests following his arrival in 2021-22, he recorded seven goals and 22 points.
At his best, he can showcase elite vision and a supreme ability to think ahead of the play.
But Krebs, the 17th overall pick by the Vegas Golden Knights in 2019, said he and Sabres coach Don Granato talked regularly about building a foundation to his game. They often examined video of Boston Bruins star Patrice Bergeron, one of the most dynamic two-way centers in history, and other players who possess similar talents.
The 6-foot, 187-pound Krebs, of course, wants to add their skills to his repertoire.
“Having that foundation defensively gives (Granato) the trust that when I’m out there in the last two minutes of a hockey game, down or up a goal, that he can trust me, and I think that was huge for me,” he said. “Those are the little details that I really tried to emphasize, and it helped. I think going into next year I’ll have that foundation and I can bring more offense.”
Krebs clearly earned more trust from Granato this year. While his ice time dropped 55 seconds to 13 minutes, 50 seconds per game – that can be attributed to the Sabres having a better roster – Granato put him in more difficult situations. His defensive zone starts jumped from 34.9 percent in 2021-22 to 52.7 percent.
“I’m still working on it, but it’s so important to have free-flowing conversation with your coach about anything,” Krebs said of trust from Granato. “And if I messed up a shift, he’s, ‘Krebsy, do this.’ And most times, I already know, but it’s huge. And it gives you confidence in yourself to make plays and do your thing.”
Granato has confidence in Krebs and his linemates because they stymie the opposition. The trio of Krebs, Okposo and Girgensons allowed just 2.13 goals per 60 minutes, according to moneypuck.com, the sixth-lowest number among NHL lines that played at least 400 minutes together.
“They taught me so much,” Krebs said of his veteran linemates, both of whom possess a straight-ahead, no-frills style. “And … we developed a little role to be the defensive line. … That factor of shutting top lines down and allowing our top lines to go score the goals is kind of exciting.”