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Take 2: Sabres making progress? Paul Hamilton says yes

WGRZ/WGR 550 Sabres/NHL Insider Paul Hamilton says despite caving in the third period recently, the Sabres are making progress under Don Granato.
Credit: AP
Buffalo Sabres interim head coach Don Granato looks on during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Boston Bruins, Thursday, March 18, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The results haven’t changed, but the country club atmosphere that Ralph Krueger brought to the Sabres has. Players really liked him because meetings were short and practices were easy.

Krueger’s practices were unbelievably sloppy and things were never stopped to get it straightened out.

Buffalo has led after 40 minutes in each of their last two games, but in the end, they lost them both.

On Saturday, in Boston the Sabres were the better team in the first two periods, but got run over in the third and lost 3-2. The Bruins outshot the Sabres 15-3 in the third period and the team just crumbled in front of Linus Ullmark.

Buffalo played even better for the first two periods on Monday against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Sabres led 3-0 and for the first time since their 18-game winless streak started, I had no doubt in my mind that they’d win.

The reason I didn’t even give losing a thought was for the first time all season they played fast and played with confidence. Interim head coach Don Granato told our Julianne Pelusi that when he took over, he realized this team needed to work harder. 

"We had trouble late a couple of weeks ago, so yes, coming out of the COVID 14 days off that we had, we felt as a staff, that conditioning was an issue," Granato said.

Granato knew the team needed to be in better shape and it may have cost him early to do it.

"When I came on over a week ago, I mentioned to you that we lost puck battles," Granato said. "In the first game I was on the bench against Boston, it was the third period when we lost strength on puck battles and we had a lot of anxiety to our game, which is fatigue. I mentioned at that time that we're going to practice longer and practice harder and it may cost us in the short-term, but we need to prop up our game conditioning."

To me it looks like its working. Monday’s loss wasn’t because they ran out of gas, it was because they ventured back into their same bad habits and for the fifth time this month, gave up three or more goals in a period.

The Sabres looked to be in good shape midway through the third. They led 3-1 and had just killed off a penalty giving up absolutely nothing. The shots were 5-to-5 and there was no reason to play any other way. What I saw was a team that was all proud of itself because it did so well on that penalty kill they forgot the game was still going on.

Sean Couturier made a pass on the backhand through his legs that should only work in a no check hockey game, not against a NHL team. The pass was perfect and Claude Giroux had the whole net for a layup. It was then I knew the winless streak was going to hit 18.

Tage Thompson put a lot of hustle into trying to score into the empty net, but just missed. Philadelphia came up us and forced overtime.

Many were upset that Granato had Thompson out there with Casey Mittelstadt, but that line was excellent in this game and now is the time to see if those players can handle extra responsibility or if they even belong on the team next season. This season is over, so trying things should be done to see which players are up for the challenge. Unfortunately I think Granato and Kevyn Adams are going to find out very few.