There are 15 games left in the season for the Buffalo Sabres. They sit seven points out of a wild-card playoff spot. The postseason isn’t part of their vocabulary any longer.
So what do the Sabres want to do with these final 15 games, the first of which is Friday against the Blue Jackets in Columbus?
“I think first and foremost for us right now we want to establish our work ethic,” Sabres defenseman Cody Franson said. “Then the details – the puck management, all those other steps in the process, will come to you after that.”
The Sabres worked on puck battles and defensive drills during an hour practice in HarborCenter Thursday, their first time on the ice since a lackluster performance in a 6-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers Tuesday in KeyBank Center.
“Competition and the compete this time of year has to be at a high level and we got it handed to us in huge doses in the Philly game,” Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said.
That meant the team got after it in practice.
“Just bringing your work boots today,” Sabres forward Marcus Foligno said. “That was pretty much the message. It was a good practice. I thought we responded well.”
When asked how much pride should factor into the final 15 games of the season, Bylsma responded, “100 percent.”
“We’re still trying to win hockey games and we’re still trying to get points. We have a lot to prove the last 15 games with who we are and how we’re going to play. Pride is a big factor.
“With the 15 games you should have no misunderstanding and you should have no questions about who the Buffalo Sabres are and how they play. That’s something that I think we haven’t gotten to yet and something with the 15 games we are playing we need to take as a challenge to establish with our group.”
While Bylsma wants to establish the Sabres identity, players have seen that identity in spurts throughout the season.
“I think our identity is that we’re a hard-working team,” Franson said. “I think when teams think of playing Buffalo, you’re going to have to work. We have holes in our game like everyone else does. We’re a work in progress, more so than we should be right now. But we’re working on that. We know what our flaws are and we’re going to correct them.”
“Physically we’re quick, we’re tenacious,” Foligno said of the team’s identity. “It’s physical hockey. It’s got to be fast hockey. It’s a team that doesn’t give up. I think we try to work to the end. Obviously we’ve had some slow starts and bad periods but it’s got to be a full-60 from us and that’s when we’re at our best.”
Foligno was able to talk specifics about the Blue Jackets in an informal pregame scout with the media.
That’s because he tends to watch the Blue Jackets as often as he can to catch his brother, Nick, who is the captain in Columbus.
The two have squared off many times, but that doesn’t dampen the excitement when the brothers get to clash.
“Yeah, it’s always fun,” Marcus Foligno said. “We haven’t played each other yet this year. Every summer going into it you’re excited to play each other so it just happens to come in the last month of the season. We play each other three times in a week. It’s going to be fun. It’s always good to see him but I just hope we come out as the winners.”
Technically, the Sabres and Blue Jackets play three times in 19 days – in Columbus on Friday, in Buffalo on Saturday and again in Columbus on March 28.