Buffalo Sabres bench boss Ralph Krueger was a motivational speaker at one point in his professional life and even wrote a book: Teamlilfe - Über Niederlagen zum Erfolg. Teamlife is his motivational company and the English translation of the rest is Beyond Setbacks to Success
, which is what a motivational book should be all about. In case you were wondering, the entire book is in German, a language Krueger is fluent in, and as of now there's no English translation.
Perhaps head coach Krueger needs to revisit "motivational" Krueger's book because his hockey team is facing more than a setback right now. In fact, he may even want to get an English translation of the book and hand it to his players as his Sabres are in the midst of a pretty good slump. After beginning the season 8-1-1 while looking motivated and on fire, the team is now mired in a 2-6-2 slide while looking tired and beaten only a quarter into the season.
The latest setback for Buffalo came last night in a place they rarely win, the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. The Sabres dropped a 4-1 decision to the Blackhawks and ran their record of futility in the Windy City to 0-7-3 in their last 10 games. Buffalo hasn't won in Chicago since January 7, 2007.
Right now the troubles are many, the answers few and injuries keep piling up. Just like last season the Sabres are having loads of trouble with secondary scoring. Nearly two-thirds of the Sabres goal-scoring (36 of the 58 goals) has come from four players--Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson while only 28% (16/58) has come from other forwards. Buffalo's defense has scored six of Buffalo's 58 total goals.
What's even worse is goal distribution over the last eight games. Eichel scored all five goals in Buffalo's last two games while he, Reinhart, Skinner and Olofsson have combined to score 13 of the team's 17 goals in those eight games. Forwards Curtis Lazar and Johan Larsson have one goal each during that span while defenseman Henri Jokiharju had the other two goals.
The Sabres can't even count on their powerplay anymore as they're scoreless in their last seven games going 0/18 in 35 minutes, 29 seconds of powerplay time. They can't win a face off either as they're 15 of 38 (39%) on the draw with the man advantage and are have mustered only 27 shots on goal on those 18 opportunities.
Krueger came on board in Buffalo with what looked to be a fresh way of going about the Sabres hockey business. Communicating with players, valuing their input, freedom within a loose but defined construct and a reliance on sports science were atop his agenda and the honeymoon phase went swimmingly. Unfortunately that phase ended as October was ending and his team just can't seen to get back to the confidence-level they had while taking the league by storm through the first 10 games. The shine began to dull in late October and Buffalo started out November with a four-game losing streak while managing only three points in seven games so far this month. Worse yet for him, the team and the fanbase, all the positivity and expectations he came in with have since evaporated and his new way of doing things has given way to unwanted visions of last year's collapse.
To think that management is oblivious to what's happening would seem to be inaccurate despite their inactivity. General Manager Jason Botterill and his staff, along with the coaching staff, are looking at the same games and the same numbers we are. The difference between Botterill and the rest of us lies in the fact that he can do something about it.
In Botterill's first two seasons as GM he decided it was best to let his team fall without making any moves to help them out. It wasn't surprising at all that he let it happen in 2017-18 as he was still getting a feel for what he had and they were no where near respectability, much less a playoff spot. Last season was a little different as the team had that 10-game November winning streak and looked like a playoff contender for a few weeks. Could he have made a single move, or even two, that would have gotten them into the playoffs? Probably not. No single move, like the one for defenseman Brandon Montour would get them there while multiple moves weren't in the cards for a GM who was trying to rebuild the entire hockey department.
This year it's different. Botterill made some fine moves in the off season to bolster his roster but he still came into this season with some glaring holes in the lineup. Filling those holes will prove to be costly but one shrewd move at this point in the season may be enough to keep them in the hunt until trade deadline day when he can make another move or two to fill lesser holes.
It's pretty obvious the Sabres need offense and they are overloaded with defensemen. The past two games we've seen two NHL defensemen in the press box and Buffalo has a top-six d-man a couple of weeks away from returning from injury. Botterill also has some reserve d-men and prospects in Rochester that may be of interest to other teams as well, but the big question is, what do other teams have in the way of forwards that the Sabres would be interested in? And, what is the cost?
Right now it doesn't look as if much will be happening on that front although one would think that Botterill has to be feeling some pressure to do something now before the season is lost. However, until then it's up to Krueger an his coaching staff to figure a way out of this mess they're in and what they need to do is figure out how to restore the confidence they played with early in the season, something that's not easily done when you're in the midst of a horrendous slump.
Eichel is the leader of this club and he may need to get it through is head that he's the one with the skill-level to lead this team out of it. He proved that against Ottawa when he scored all four goals in the 4-2 win but he falls into this trap of trying to be too unselfish way too often for a player of his caliber. An example of that came last night when he tried a pass to a trailing Zemgus Girgensons in a 2-on-1 situation when he had a clear shot. He needs to get it through his head that goalies have seen what he can do with his shot, that he'll have the advantage in that situation and that the odds of him scoring are exponentially better than almost any other player on the team. His pass never made it to Girgensons.
Krueger really needs to figure out his powerplay either by changing the personnel or changing the plan of attack. He also might want to rethink his overall philosophy of the powerplay giving energy to the offense. It worked early on but going 0/18 in the last seven games while his team has scored barely over two goals/game doesn't seem like the best strategy. Bodies to the net 5v5 at all costs should be the mantra and if it takes mixing up lines and benching players (if there are any left to bench after all the injuries they've had,) then so be it.
It's really not rocket science we're talking about here. The Sabres need goals. The players seem to want pretty goals and they're not getting them, which means they need dirty goals. Unfortunately that takes gumption and persistence which is something they're severely lacking right now.
This is where the coach and his staff come in. Krueger's predecessors weren't able to get through and were fired after two years on the job. He was known as a motivator, a coach players would run through a brick wall for. It was there early in the season, but something happened along the way. Perhaps the answer is in his book. Perhaps it's within the players themselves. Or perhaps it lies in a roster shakeup.
Regardless of where the motivation comes from, it better get here soon or we'll be spinning the Draft Simulator come Christmas while wondering just what's in Krueger's book that made it a best seller.