BUFFALO – The Sabres’ emotional 3-1 victory in Ted Nolan’s debut as interim coach Nov. 15 is starting to feel like a distant memory.
Yes, the Sabres have been showcasing a better compete level at times. Yes, they’re starting games much better.
But the bottom-feeding club has been outscored 15-5 in four straight losses since beating Toronto. The Sabres, who have an NHL-low five wins and 11 points, are still really bad.
“I really liked the emotion of the first game, and everyone was expecting that,” Nolan said Monday inside the First Niagara Center. “And the second game we had emotion for two periods and it dropped off for a period. Third game, we started off really well and it tailed off. Fourth game, same thing. Fifth game, same thing.
“There’s glimpses of playing well, then we collapse. So we just got to learn to do it on a consistent basis and having faith in one another. I don’t think we have too much faith in one another.”
Nolan spent much of Monday’s long practice working in the defensive zone, where the Sabres, having allowed 3.16 goals a game, are a mess. He wants his club to start playing more instinctively.
“We just kind of react after the fact,” he said. “A lot of our problems are because of breakdowns. So we’re going to try to correct that so one hand knows what the other one does. We talk about communication, talking down low. We’re a very quiet team. We don’t talk enough. I’ve always said, ‘Good communication eliminates duplication so you don’t do someone else’s job.’”
Still, the Sabres possess better instincts than they did under former coach Ron Rolston, defenseman Henrik Tallinder said.
“We were a little too hesitant before,” Tallinder said. “(We watched) a lot of video. And I think Ron is a good coach, too. It’s not that. I just felt that all the guys were jumping on the train a little bit more with Ted.”
Nolan hasn’t been able to change one constant of this trying season, however. The Sabres often appear deflated after an opponent scores.
“When things ain’t very well, that’s usually what happens,” Nolan said. “We just got to really work on our mental capacity on this team, get them stronger and believing if we do things right more often than not, the table will start turning. I’m not too sure where it is. I’m hoping it’s sooner than later. We just got to keep working on it. That light bulb goes on, we feel good about ourselves and we start turning this thing.”
Despite the struggles, Nolan said the lines he’s been using will stay intact.
“We asked the players to be consistent. We have to be consistent with our message and our delivery,” he said. “We can’t work on defensive zone coverage for one day and then forget about it for the next two weeks. We have to do it on a consistent basis. We have to keep them somewhat consistent so we learn what each and every one does on the line.”
The Sabres have scored only 41 goals this year, an NHL-low 1.64 a game. No other team is under 2.0.
Three former Sabres – Richie Dunn, Morris Titanic and Rick Vaive, according to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun – are among 10 NHL players claiming in a class-action lawsuit the NHL hasn’t done enough to prevent concussions.
Tallinder, the Sabres’ elder statesman at 34 years old, on being awarded the assistant captaincy almost immediately following Nolan’s arrival: “That was a little bit of a surprise. You know what? I’m not going to change too much with an ‘A’ on my jersey. I am who I am. I’m going to lead. If people want to follow me, that’s fine. But I’m not going to change because I have that letter.”
Rochester winger Patrick Kaleta, who’s back in the AHL trying to develop a calmer style following a series of suspensions, will return from a four-game absence (lower body) Wednesday, according to the Democrat and Chronicle.