Mike Harrington: No snow job from Housley necessary as Sabres actually play pretty well - The Buffalo News

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Mike Harrington: No snow job from Housley necessary as Sabres actually play pretty well

This time, there was no snow job needed by Phil Housley. The Sabres really did play well Tuesday night in a full-marks, 3-1 victory over the Washington Capitals.

There was such a good vibe in the dressing room after the game. Robin Lehner succinctly said that's how the Sabres should play every night. All for that. The praise was universal for the way Jake McCabe jumped in on Tom Wilson after the Caps' gnat bulldozed Sam Reinhart. Benoit Pouliot was able to describe a sickmitts toedrag that produced the winning goal. Jack Eichel even joked he heard the paying customers' groans and will start shooting more.

But we need to take a step back here and give a gander to the mind games Housley is playing. The first-year coach hates looking back, so we'll do it for him.

The Wraparound: Sabres 3, Capitals 1

Let's go to Saturday's ugly 5-1 defeat in Dallas, a game that saw the Sabres fall behind, 4-0, in the first 13 minutes. It got uglier when Housley met the media afterward. Not because he criticized anybody. Far from it.

In case you missed it, here's what Housley said: "When I evaluate the game, I think we played well. The score tells you differently and there's probably going to be a lot of people that disagree with me."

Ya think?

That was one of the most egregious quotes I've heard from a Buffalo coach in a long time.

That was winning-the-offseason level poppycock, an affront to a battered fanbase.

What coach in his right mind dares to think -- let alone say -- that his team played well when it was down, 4-0, less than 13 minutes into a game?

How hard would the jaws of Joel Quenneville and Mike Babcock be clenched when describing such a performance? How fast would John Tortorella, Guy Boucher or Paul Maurice spew venom in every direction?

What in the world would Ken Hitchcock or Bruce Boudreau say? Housley just came from Nashville, where Peter Laviolette wasn't warm and cuddly when his team was in the Stanley Cup final last spring. Forget being down 4-0 in the first period.

Can you imagine Claude Julien ever trying to pull off that kind of sham in Montreal?

There's a difference in being positive and being Pollyanna Phil.

Several players said after that game the performance was pretty good and all about bad bounces -- just like the coach did a few minutes later. Hmmm. Maybe Housley might want to fix his atrocious power play before he fixes what excuses this team gives the media.

Housley brusquely dismissed my inquiry about his comment Monday, pointing out he was looking forward. There was a little of Bill Belichick looking at Cincinnati in the answer, as if he knew he was in a trouble spot.

Sabres' Housley: 'We're going to still to hold the players accountable – believe me'

But in an odd way, it seems Housley's performance -- and that's the only thing you can call it -- resonated in his dressing room. Might be some method to his madness.

"It's easy to be negative because you're in a negative situation," Evander Kane said after Tuesday's game. "It's hard to be positive. That's the mental toughness you have to have, being positive when things are going tough and working through things."

Forget about the Caps. Marco Scandella, who played a tough 26 minutes, 34 seconds with Rasmus Ristolainen out and the defense depleted to Game-7-in-Carolina levels, said the players were ready to perform for Housley -- in practice on Monday.

He was right. That was a dandy of a workout in HarborCenter. It was crisp and physical, like most of Housley's practices are. Not a lot of wasted time or energy. It carried into the game, with Buffalo jumping a Caps team on a back-to-back that fell to 8-7-1 and looks nothing like its recent editions.

"From the puck drop, everyone believed we would win this game," Scandella said. "We were more ready for them. We were home and asserted ourselves in our building. It was just a mindset. We didn't dip our toe in the water. We were initiating the game and bringing it to them."

Credit to Housley and his staff for helping to instill that mindset and to the players for buying in. As a first-year head coach, Housley is going to make mistakes (no Eichel in the shootout on opening night will always be a head-scratcher). And you wonder if a team that essentially ran Dan Bylsma out seven months ago simply likes Housley more because he's not as demanding, which is a slippery slope.

Outside the room, Housley's credibility could use some help. There's the daily dodge-and-parry about injuries that's dated to prospect camp, where Alex Nylander's day-to-day situation has now stretched to two months. And the preseason, where Zach Bogosian's day-to-day has covered every game of the season to date.

Rasmus Ristolainen is the latest day-to-dayer. Aren't we all? The way Housley tells it, you can expect to see Ristolainen sometime in January.

Housley got caught Tuesday saying Matt Tennyson and Zach Redmond were game-time decisions. Tennyson didn't make it through the morning skate and Redmond told reporters how happy he was to get a chance in the lineup. Whoops. Does Housley really think the Capitals care about defensemen No. 10 and 11 in Buffalo?

You would hope Housley will learn the nuances of keeping information classified as opposed to flat-out lying to the media and public. But at least his players seem to believe in him and that's really all that's going to matter to him.

Housley said he loved the attitude his team showed Tuesday and he was right. At least on this night, there was no reason to argue his analysis.

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