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Hamilton: Sabres don't have the players to execute Ralph Krueger's system

If Sabres' Ralph Krueger is inflexible with his system, then general manager Kevyn Adams should be embarrassed with the team that he gave him.
Credit: AP
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (26) and Philadelphia Flyers forward Joel Farabee (86) exchange words during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Sabres have lost six straight games at home, but none worse than the two they dropped to the Philadelphia Flyers over the weekend.

All I keep hearing about is how talented this group is offensively yet they didn’t score on the Flyers all weekend and have been shutout by a weak defensive team in three straight games.

I think the time has come to say this team is not all that talented. They are 29th in the 31-team NHL in goal scoring and are quite a bit worse than last season.

There comes a time in a player’s career where he no longer can score goals and it's possible Jeff Skinner has hit that point. Skinner hasn’t scored in 20 games and has just 18 goals in his last 100 games.

James Neal scored 25 goals for the Vegas Golden Knights back in 2017-18. Since then he had seven for the Calgary Flames, 19 for Edmonton Oilers and has two this season for the Oilers.

In 2011-12 Matt Moulson netted 36 goals for the New York Islanders. His next year he had 15 for New York followed by 17 for the Islanders and the Sabres. After that it was 13, 8 and 14.

Corey Perry had 34 for the Anaheim Ducks in 2015-16. In 2018-19 he scored six for the Ducks and only had five for the Dallas Stars the next season.

Anyway, this isn’t just a case of bad luck. Bad luck doesn’t last for two years. Taylor Hall hasn’t scored in 18 games, Jack Eichel hasn’t scored in nine games and has two goals all season and Eric Staal hasn’t scored in 10 games. Cody Eakin has one goal in 19 games. Skinner, Kyle Okposo, Brandon Montour and Tage Thompson are all zero for the season.  

The whole weekend was unacceptable. Rasmus Dahlin said, “I’m very embarrassed. This is not acceptable, this sucks, it’s the worst.”

The whole team should be embarrassed. Ralph Krueger should be embarrassed that he employs a system that the players on this team aren’t capable of executing. Good coaches adjust to what they have but Krueger said, “The principles of play or the core structure that we’re searching for we embrace. There’s no negotiation that it works in the National Hockey League and we’ve seen it.”

On the other hand, if Krueger is inflexible with his system, then general manager Kevyn Adams should be embarrassed with the team that he gave Krueger. Adams needs to find players that embrace what Krueger wants to do and if that was the plan, Adams failed miserably.

The one thing this team has none of is grit, passion, drive, jam and confidence. Dahlin was very angry after Sunday’s game and said they need somebody to hit somebody or start a fight. Actually, they need anything that would show they have a pulse.

Credit: AP
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin (26) is tripped during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

I bet the fans really enjoyed watching Joel Farabee stand in front of Dahlin with a little over a minute left in the game and challenge a 20-year-old kid from Sweden that is supposed to be a future star in this league. Maybe that’s what Dahlin was talking about. If Rob Ray or Andrew Peters or Craig Rivet or Pat Kaleta or Cody McCormack or Adam Mair were on that team a full scale riot would’ve broken out. You do not let the other team stand there and challenge Rasmus Dahlin and go unanswered.

The fact that there is nobody on this team that will respond to anything is on Adams.

I’m not saying you need a bunch of fighters, but you need some guys who can play the game and add energy to the team. Will Carrier would look great in that role, but Jason Botterill thought it was important to keep Linus Ullmark so Carrier went to Vegas in the expansion draft.

The type of players I’m thinking of is Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, Pat Maroon, Yanni Gourde, Barclay Goodrow or Matt Martin. They change the momentum of games, they make guys like Dahlin and Jack Eichel feel comfortable out there. When was the last time you saw Skinner get into somebody’s face? He doesn’t because he knows there’s nobody out there that will back him up. Jake McCabe and Will Borgen would, but they’re injured. Players like that can also play the game and contribute.

It’s unbelievable that this season is just over a month old and the Sabres are already out of it. Buffalo will likely miss the playoffs for a 10th straight year and there’s no end in sight. I don’t know how Krueger is still on the plane going to New York as the coach of the Buffalo Sabres. His system may work for other teams, but it doesn’t work for this one and the eye test and the numbers totally show it.

Credit: AP
Buffalo Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger looks on during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Islanders, Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Krueger’s team is 28th this season in points percentage and last year they were 25th. Buffalo is worse this season in almost every category except special teams. They are dead last in 5-on-5 scoring. The Flyers have more goals 5-on-5 than the Sabres have overall. Coaches, general managers and players all change, but the one thing that is consistent for the Buffalo Sabres every single season for the last 10 years, they’re in on the NHL Draft Lottery. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think that’s anything to be proud of.