Buffalo Sabres coach Rick Dudley Thursday said he will continue looking for aggressiveness and would design his lineup around players who can give it to him.
Dudley defended himself and his coaching staff and said that if there
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was unhappiness with either it hasn't been communicated to him directly.
He said he had spoken with General Manager Gerry Meehan about the team's problems and possible solutions but indicated he had not been ordered to make any specific changes.
"When you're not successful, you don't ever feel like you've done all you can," he said, "but I think this is a tremendous coaching staff. I have tremendous faith in the other two guys (John VanBoxmeer and John Tortorella) and I have faith in myself. All of us have been successful on our own and all of us have been successful collectively with other people. This is my ninth year and the first time I ever faced a situation like this. I don't think any person, myself or either of the two gentlemen, has suddenly become a bad coach. I find that hard to believe."
Dudley also said he didn't think "players all of a sudden start to lose faith either," and said he felt the team is as close as it was a year ago.
Team captain Mike Foligno, who once again is the subject of trade rumors, agreed that the team is united in its desire to win games.
"Every guy in here wants this team to win," he said. "This guy (pointing to himself), this guy (pointing to Dave Andreychuk) and this guy, this guy, this guy and this guy (pointing to the mostly empty locker room stalls at Sabreland).
"Even if it means one of us has to leave to make the team better, we all still want it to do well."
But the fact remains the Sabres, who entered the season with championship hopes, are not doing well. The team is three games under .500, is in fourth place in the Adams Division, has a modest 4-4-5 home record, a poor 3-7-3 division record and has lost four straight, including Wednesday's exhibition against the Soviets.
Meehan said the team lacked focus and, at times, creativity. Media criticism has centered on Dudley's line construction and frequent changes in those lines. Some have questioned whether the team has lost faith in him.
Dudley cited injuries and other needs for making line changes. He also said the players have to forget about what has gone wrong and keep a positive attitude.
"We have to refocus on the present," he said. "When a player is not going well, he can't think back on what he's done wrong. If he wants to visualize, he has to do it off a game in which a lot of things went right for him."
"When things are down, you have a tendency to look for an excuse. All of us. We just have to look in the mirror and say, 'Hey, I haven't done everything I can do to make us successful.' "
Critics have suggested the Sabres play too many people, and should stick to three lines with the best players.
"We have to take people out of some roles," said Dudley. "If we're going to play our top nine forwards -- which everybody suggests -- well, that's easier said. If (Benoit) Hogue, (Jiri) Sejba and (Alexander) Mogilny are your best line, who becomes the fourth line? Do you go with three and have incredibly sour people at the end of the bench? They may be justifiably sour because they are good players."
The idea of aggressiveness, meanwhile, has been at the heart of questions involving the Sabres since training camp. Dudley has given significant ice time to so-called "grinders" who go to the net and make things happen, usually through physical aggression. That time, however, has come at the expense of more talented but less physical players.
"I'd like to see people either show a little more jam (aggressiveness) or have some people with a little more jam in our lineup," he said.
"That's why Robbie Ray, Mike Hartman and Brad Miller will in all likelihood play every game. We hope people will feed off of that. Whether they will or not remains to be seen.
"I want to put together something that will give us some jam on every line, but that's easier said than done."
It was not said or done Thursday.
Thursday was an optional practice and only 12 players were on the ice. Others took part in off-ice workouts or took medical treatment. Still others stayed home.
Meanwhile, the search for solutions goes on.
"I'm going to go and talk with my coaches," Dudley said. "We've talked about focus and how to get it and keep it. I truly believe that one good outing can erase a lot of the negative."