It’s early, but the Buffalo Sabres are rolling. They knocked off the San Jose Sharks Saturday by a final score of 4-3 to improve to a 7-1-1 record.
But here’s the thing: the Sabres were rolling last season too. And we all know how that worked out, which is probably why Buffalo’s winning ways aren’t exactly the biggest story in hockey. Too many people know how this movie could end, too many people anticipate the fall.
Last year, the Sabres blew through a 10-game winning streak and led the league in November before falling apart. That whole situation got head coach Phil Housley fired and brought in Ralph Krueger, a decision made by Terry Pegula that didn’t seem all that popular at the time.
Winning changes things, however, and now Krueger is looking every bit the hero.
There’s a reason for that. This edition of the Sabres does seem more formidable than last year’s, even during the streak.
This edition of the Sabres has a revitalized defence, a quality goaltending tandem in Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton, a surging Jack Eichel, a proficient rookie in Victor Olofsson, a solid support cast capable of putting up strong secondary scoring numbers.
On top of it, the players like the coach.
“When he talks, everyone is listening and everyone is focused on what he has to say,” forward Sam Reinhart said. “He just commands respect and energy in the room, and it’s been very positive to see.”
Krueger entered the Buffalo fray suffering under the weight of a less-than-stellar tenure with the Edmonton Oilers in 2012-2013, but smarter minds called attention to his international leadership. His coaching of Switzerland’s national team should perhaps set the bar. And his stint behind the bench of Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey is more than notable. So too his book on leadership or his chairing of Southampton FC.
In other words, “when he talks, everyone is listening.”
Right now, all that listening is getting the job done and the Sabres are playing some of the best hockey this franchise has seen in years. The next step is obviously becoming a playoff team. Buffalo hasn’t seen the post-season in eight years, but Krueger is preaching the religion of “small picture.” For the moment.
“It’s just about constant improvement here,” Krueger said. “Anything else will just distract us from what’s happening.”
Photo credit: AP Photo/Bryan Bennett