The most important thing that happened Thursday in Sabreland is a pretty easy call. About two hours before the game against the Arizona Coyotes, General Manager Tim Murray made his usual stop in the coaches' room but then told Dan Bylsma and his assistants he was making a detour to go into the Sabres' dressing room and talk to the troops.
Murray doesn't do it much. That's normally the purview of the coaches. But in the wake of the trade deadline -- where the Sabres didn't improve, didn't acquire more assets and emerged with players who had to think they were on the first flight out of town -- Murray had a few things to get off his chest.
Judging by the raves he got around the dressing room following the 6-3 win over the feeble Coyotes, Murray got his message across.
"It wasn't too scheduled. It was just out of nowhere," Ryan O'Reilly said. "He walked in and said there's a meeting. It was good, something we needed to hear after the deadline and all the rumors. It was nice to hear him say this is the group."
It wasn't a whats-up-with-you-guys session. Given the team's often-putrid play during its 0-3-1 stretch, that might have been appropriate. Jack Eichel said he understood Murray was frustrated by the team's recent play but heartened to hear Murray wanted the players to know he has their back. Especially lest anyone think the lack of movement at the deadline said something else.
"More than anything, he said he still has a lot of faith in us as a group and that this season is far from over," said Eichel, who responded with his third three-point game of the campaign. "He hopes that everyone wants to be here, that everyone cares about each other, gets better and moves forward with this organization. I thought it was a great speech by him. I took a lot out of it."
"Everyone in this dressing room and this organization are on the same page. That's what it was," said Marcus Foligno, owner of his first two-goal game of the season. "Being on the same page and hearing it from Tim was nice. You hear it from your general manager and everyone is going to listen and respect what he said to us."
Speaking during his weekly interview on WGR Radio a few minutes after he met with the team, Murray said he was disappointed by the standings but is not giving up on the playoff race.
"This is our team," Murray said. "We're relatively healthy right now and we're going to play as hard as we can and get as many points as we can. D-day has gone by. This is our team. You're here. There's 19 games left and let's see what we can do."
Like everybody in the organization, Murray had to be feeling good less than two weeks ago after the Sabres beat St. Louis here. And as he said Wednesday, there was no shame in a 5-1 loss to Chicago the next day. That's Chicago. It happens.
But the SS Sabre ran aground with the losses in Colorado and Arizona and turning a 4-2 lead into a 5-4 overtime loss Tuesday against Nashville didn't help. That's five points completely frittered away. Imagine where the Sabres would be with them. Quite a different story.
"We're not a championship-caliber team but we're a competitive team. I think we should be a playoff team," Murray said. "It's late. It's getting down to the nitty gritty for sure and it's going to be tough and I still believe these players can get it done. Maybe it's false belief. I don't know. I told them I believe in them."
The defense on the club is what it is. But the top players -- Eichel, O'Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Evander Kane -- really stood out on this night. Largely because of them the Sabres have hope even as other areas give outsiders reasons not to believe.
"I'm not just saying this. It's not lip service," Murray said. "It's not to get the fans on our side or on my side. That's not what I'm here for. I'm not here to preserve and hang on to my job. We're here to be better. We have some terrible losses, so we work on it every day and hope the consistency we talk about kicks in."
"It was good, something we needed to hear," O'Reilly said. "It was refreshing to have him come in and say this is the group and he believes in us. You could feel it around the room. There was an excitement. It's on us now. You could tell everyone felt good about it and knew we have to dig deep, go inside, collectively come together."