ANAHEIM, Calif. – Ted Nolan felt bad about publicly comparing the Sabres to a peewee team the last time they played Anaheim. The coach has since changed his interview approach. He’s held back comments, and he’s taken extra time before speaking so he won’t be as emotional when he steps to the microphones.
Despite that, there’s no denying the coach was right. It was men against boys last week when the Ducks smacked around Buffalo during a 5-1 victory. The players know it, and they didn’t take offense to Nolan saying it.
“We know what he means,” defenseman Mike Weber said Tuesday. “We felt the same way. We weren’t prepared. In the locker room we weren’t ready to play the style of hockey that’s needed to be played against a team that’s a Stanley Cup contender every year.”
The Sabres insist they will be ready for the rematch tonight in Honda Center.
“It’s pretty fresh in the mind how we played,” Sabres forward Cody McCormick said. “It’s fresh because it was so close, and we just weren’t happy with the way we played that game.
“I don’t think they saw our best game. I think we’ve had times where we’ve been able to skate with the top teams, and I don’t think we showed that at all. We’re going in wanting to prove ourselves, that we can play with them and steal a couple points in their rink.”
The one-sided loss to the Ducks showed the rebuilding Sabres how far they have to go. Anaheim outshot the Sabres, 44-12, including a 17-3 rout in the first period.
“Obviously, they kind of jumped all over us,” Weber said. “This is a team that does all the right things, from their first line to their fourth line.”
While Buffalo hasn’t added any skill during the eight days between games, it has changed its mindset. The Sabres know status quo won’t work for a team with five losses in six games.
“We’ve been trying to actually take a lot from their game and from other teams we’ve played, just from the top down how a team plays within their system,” Weber said. “It’s where we’re trying to get.”
The players went to dinner together Monday after arriving in California. They looked rejuvenated Tuesday during an up-tempo practice. They looked like the loose group that had fun during training camp, not the miserable bunch that showed up once the puck dropped.
“It’s had some ups and downs, I won’t lie,” McCormick said of the team’s attitude. “But for the most part we got on the road, we had dinner together. Everybody’s in high spirits. Going into this we’re looking at it as the first game of the road trip. We’ve got to win the first one.”
Nolan conducted individual and forward line meetings with the players, reiterating his themes of hard work and competitiveness.
“I like to see the way the guys really took their words into action,” the coach said after practice. “It’s a start, and hopefully it’s a start to turn things around.
“We just needed a commitment to work, to battle and compete a little bit better. I’m not talking about just one or two guys. I’m talking about everybody, coaching staff included, in the way we prepare, the way we go to work, and we have to come with a little bit more determination and effort into what we do for a living.
“Mentally, we weren’t doing what we could do as well as we could do it. When you do that, you create bad habits. We were creating bad habits in our work ethic. We just really wanted to adjust that.”
It’ll take more than work to beat Anaheim, which has an NHL-best five-game winning streak. Although it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Ducks take Buffalo lightly, Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau is taking extra measures to ensure it doesn’t happen.
“I’ve been in these things many times where you beat a team pretty good, coach calls you out and the next game you’re playing your best game no matter what,” Boudreau said. “That’s what I think we’re going to get from Buffalo: Buffalo’s best game. So if we’re not ready, it’s going to be troublesome.”