Despite rough start, Sabres' Housley keeps looking at bright side - The Buffalo News

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Despite rough start, Sabres' Housley keeps looking at bright side

It's one month into Phil Housley's coaching career, and it certainly hasn't gone well. The Sabres have been blown out and beaten up, falling to injuries and opposing offenses. With a record of 4-8-2, Buffalo's points percentage of .357 is second-last in the NHL, ahead of only hapless Arizona.

"It's easy to be negative right now," Housley said.

Somehow, the coach isn't. Amazingly – and, based on fans' reactions, somewhat infuriatingly – Housley has continued to look on the bright side. That was never more evident than after Saturday's 5-1 loss in Dallas.

"When I evaluate the game, I think we played well," Housley said. "The score tells you differently, and there's probably going to be a lot of people that disagree with me. But I think we got the start we wanted. There was some bad bounces that occurred.

"Could we have better coverage? Could we have made better decisions through the neutral zone? But that wasn't the case in my opinion."

The Sabres have a fragile psyche, so maybe the coach didn't want to pile on in public. Maybe it was his way of not burying goaltender Robin Lehner, who got yanked after allowing three goals on seven shots in 10 minutes.

Lehner, Sabres watch the wind leave their sails in loss

But it sounded like the Sabres have lowered the bar, that a four-goal loss is an acceptable effort. The feel-good vibe won't play to a fan base that knows better and expects more, but it's working in the dressing room.

"The guys love him," right wing Seth Griffith said. "He's been even keel, which keeps us levelheaded. It was a struggle there for the first little bit, but he stayed on top of us. He believed in us right from the get-go, so he gave us some confidence."

It was a given there would be early season kinks to work out. There's a new coaching staff, new system and 10 new players. But as the expansion Vegas Golden Knights have shown with a 9-4 start, things can come together quickly.

It's simply not happening in Buffalo.

"It's obviously been a challenge, not only just implementing systems, trying to get our guys comfortable in those systems, getting consistency out of our team," Housley said. "I think we've made great strides.

"There's highs and lows. We want to try to keep it at an even-level keel, not tip too low, not get too high. I think our consistency is a good measurement. We have to be a consistent hockey team."

The Sabres have yet to do anything consistently well.

"We can't win one, lose one," Housley said. "We've got to try to string some wins together, and that's when I go back to consistency. That's just attention to detail."

Housley has demanded more during practices, stopping drills when something isn't done right. Then he'll deliver compliments that seem contradictory to what's happening on the ice.

"He's handled the ebbs and flows pretty well," defenseman Jake McCabe said. "We haven't put forth great efforts in this first month. He's patient when we need him to be patient, and he'll light a fire under us when we need that, too.

"He's shown an ability that whatever he feels needs to be done, he'll do it."

It's no secret some players wanted a change behind the bench last year. The early reviews for Housley are better than the final ones for Dan Bylsma.

"I think he's a great coach," center Ryan O'Reilly said of Housley. "He's great at attention to detail. Obviously, you knew he was a hockey mind. He's a guy that we've all respected with what he's done in the game.

"I think he's got a great system and a mind for the game."

What Housley doesn't have is a successful first month of his career. He hopes things start to turn around Tuesday when Buffalo hosts Washington.

"In our process through this, I think we're going in a right direction," Housley said. "It was just unfortunate we got bad bounces against us. We have to regroup here, and we've got a big game on Tuesday."

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