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Sabres hoping to reset into winning mode

Drew Stafford spent his time getting to be a new dad while Ted Nolan shoveled snow in Northern Ontario.

The Buffalo Sabres had a prolonged break for the NHL All Star festivities and one of the edicts from above was to stop thinking about hockey.

The team reconvened on Monday afternoon at HarborCenter before flying to Calgary where they kick off a four-game road trip against the Flames at 9 p.m. Tuesday (MSG, Radio 550 AM).

The hope is that time away from the rink will help the Sabres set the reset button as they try again to end the franchise’s longest losing streak, currently sitting at 11 games.

Stafford spent time with his wife, Hali, and son, Mason, who was born earlier this month.

“As frustrating and challenging as the hockey side of things can be, it definitely makes you realize life is good,” Stafford said. “There are good things going on and you just ride on that and focus on those things you usually end up having a little bit more of a clear head, get rid of some of that negativity and it definitely helps.”

Nolan went home to Northern Ontario, getting away from the NHL-centric world for a few days if not the trademark hockey weather.

“Some guys to go beaches, I go to shovel my deck off and enjoy my family and friends,” Nolan said. “It was really good. You get to talk to people outside of hockey and how they view it. It makes you feel a little bit better when you talk to family and friends.”

Players and coaches were pleased with the first practice back after an eight-day break. The hourlong practice was up-tempo and simple, which is ideally the way the Sabres would like to play the games for the entire game.

When last we saw the Sabres, you may recall, they were kicking some actually impressive hockey in the first period against the Red Wings in Detroit. They scored three goals in that period. They were playing solid defense while aggressive in the offensive zone. They were active and engaged and almost confident.

And then the wheels came off. Not slowly. In one big old swoop. By the end, that 3-0 first period lead turned into a 6-4 defeat and another loss.

“That first period we had, we were all over the puck,” Stafford said of the Detroit game. “We were winning battles and we were dictating the pace of the play just by taking care of the puck, making sure we were eliminating our turnovers. It’s as simple as that. Not giving them anything.”

From the player’s perspective, the problem is consistency. A great shift here. A nice period there. But nothing quite ties the performances together.

“If I had a direct answer I wouldn’t be here talking to you about it,” Stafford said. “It’s one of those things I think you just need to start with one good period, each guy holds himself accountable as far as each shift, earning your next shift, doing something to contribute, being part of the solution every single shift. That will lead collectively to us coming together as a group.”

The losing takes its toll on the collective and makes hitting that reset button all the more difficult. Brian Gionta, who returns to the lineup after missing 13 games with an upper body injury, sees a team that has been getting too caught up in the emotional waves that happen within a game and within a season. The captain wants his room to better learn to let go of the bad and the good.

“I still believe in the team we have. I believe we can play much better,” Gionta said. “The frustrating part is that we’ve shown it in the past. We just have to do it. … It’s that old cliché, you can’t get too high and you can’t get too low.

“If things are going bad, you’ve got to find a way out of it. You have to not take it home with you and that’s not a bad thing. You’ve got to try and leave things behind and not let it eat you apart and try to get out of it as quick as possible. With this break hopefully we can come back with a new mindset and start fresh.”


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