NEWARK, N.J. – The Sabres and their fans had a beef this weekend when officials called an overtime penalty shot against Buffalo. It’s all those other calls that have caught Dan Bylsma’s attention.
The coach had one of the least-penalized teams in the NHL through the first month of the season. Those days are gone. A four-game run that featured 21 infractions dropped the Sabres to 10th in a hurry heading into Saturday’s rematch against New Jersey.
The breakaway grab by Evander Kane on Friday was one thing. Recent high-sticking calls against Kane, Derek Grant, Jake McCabe, Ryan O’Reilly, Zemgus Girgensons and Dmitry Kulikov were quite another.
“It’s not like you’re getting a bad call when a guy leaves the ice with a bloody nose, and that’s really discipline and focus on our part,” Bylsma said in Prudential Center.
The Sabres’ penalty killers took the ice 31 times in the opening 10 games. In the next four, they had to come out 21 times. Buffalo went 3 for 4 and 3 for 3 against Ottawa, 5 for 8 against Boston and 6 for 6 in the opening game against the Devils.
“I’m concerned,” Bylsma said. “We’ve taken too many penalties, in third periods especially. That gives them the mojo of the game. We did an excellent job of killing the penalties off in the beginning of the third, but it really tilts the ice in their favor and we’re playing uphill as a result.
“If you look at our penalties, they have been stick fouls. They have been careless, needless stick fouls. They haven’t been of the need-to-take kind. That’s a little bit of a concern. Inopportune times and careless with our sticks. The referees don’t have an option to call them.”
Devils coach John Hynes was happy to be a bench boss in the USA Hockey program during the mid-2000s. It was going to take the right people to get him to leave.
Bylsma was part of the reason he did.
After Bylsma took over Pittsburgh as a midseason replacement in 2008-09, the Penguins needed to find Bylsma’s replacement in the minors. They handed the job to Bylsma assistant Todd Reirden and named Hynes as an assistant. He took over the following season, spent five years in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and was named head coach of the Devils in 2015-16.
“I really wanted to have an opportunity to get into pro hockey, but it was important that I had the opportunity in a good organization and a place where I felt you were going to be able to develop as a coach and possibly continue to move up in that organization,” said Hynes, who liked what he heard from Penguins coaches and management. “I had some great conversations with Dan Bylsma, Todd Reirden, Tom Fitzgerald, Ray Shero and Jason Botterill, and I just felt to have the opportunity to work with the quality of people was the most important thing. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have that opportunity around those types of people.
“Dan is a great human being and a very good coach. … We had a great relationship, and I learned a lot from him.”
The Devils played without potent scorer Mike Cammalleri for the second straight night. He took part in the pregame skate Friday in Buffalo but flew home before the game. Hynes was not sure how long the forward would be absent.
“We talked to him a little bit during the day,” Hynes said. “He’s got a personal situation that he’s dealing with, and that’s what’s happening.”
Cammalleri has eight goals and 15 points in 20 games against the Sabres.
Referees clearly know the players and their skills. After they awarded stay-at-home defenseman Andy Greene the deciding penalty shot Friday, the referees skated to the bench. Their words, according to Hynes:
"Good news is you've got a penalty shot. The bad news is Greene's got to take it."