The points of emphasis were simple, but associate coach Davis Payne made sure the words hung throughout KeyBank Center early Sunday afternoon.
Payne was passionately vocal in telling the players to get sharp. Pay attention to details. Reminding them, in somewhat colorful language, that every play counts.
The Buffalo Sabres worked on those details in a hard 30-minute practice. Most of the team stayed out for another 30 minutes. Good habits are developed through repetition. And the Sabres need to develop some better habits.
They worked on generating speed through the neutral zone and a shoot-first mentality. They worked on breaking out of their zone as a five-man unit and becoming crisper on line changes.
That's where the Buffalo Sabres feel they have faltered most in their first two games of the season. That's what the team hopes to change Monday afternoon as it hosts the New Jersey Devils at 3 p.m. in KeyBank Center.
The Sabres are looking to move past a 6-3 loss to the New York Islanders. The Saturday night game in Brooklyn was a disaster, with two short-handed goals against and three goals scored in a span of 1:47. From the team perspective, the performance and loss had little to do with implementing a new system. Rather, it had everything to do with playing good hockey.
"Anytime you put a new system in, sure it's going to take some getting use to, but in saying that there's things (Saturday) night that had nothing to do with the system or anything like that," Sabres forward Kyle Okposo said. "It was just our decision-making as a team and our lack of battle and their elevated level of battle. They did a really good job of making decisions through the neutral zone and we just didn't do that."
"It's getting back to the little details," Sabres forward Ryan O'Reilly said. "That's what killed us yesterday. Just little things. Relaxing at certain times of the game. I thought we had a good, intense practice with everyone going. Competing, moving feet, having good sticks, going to right spots."
While getting better as a five-man until was high on the priority list at Sunday's practice, special teams will continue to be a storyline for the Sabres who desperately need to get better on the power play.
In two games the Sabres have given up three shorthanded goals. They are 1 for 9 on the power play, although Evander Kane did notch two shorthanded goals in the loss to the Islanders. That's all well and good, but the Sabres are in need of better execution, effort, and mentality when they have the man advantage.
That will be key against the Devils, who had a spectacular special teams performance in their season-opening 4-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday. New Jersey went 3 for 4 on the power play while holding the Avs to 0 for 6, adding a shorthanded goal for good measure.
"I don’t know how many short-handed goals we gave up last year. Maybe two? We've given up three in two games," Okposo said. (For the record, the Sabres surrendered four shorties last season).
"We've just got to make sure we're sharp on the power play and make sure that we come with a mentality that we're going to go out-work them and we're going to go score every time we get on the ice. We can't be second-guessing ourselves. I know it's easy to do. Myself, I've had a couple games where I haven't been up to the standard of play that I want to play at. But you've got to keep going. Those games are behind you and you've got to move forward."
As the Sabres move forward, coach Phil Housley wants to see his team breaking out of their defensive zone and spending time in the offensive zone. More time in the other team's zone means less wasted energy along with more scoring opportunities.
"I think the guys understand what we're trying to do and you can see in the games when we play the right way, we're very effective," Housley said. "But when we take things into our own hands and try to make plays through the neutral zone against a left wing lock forecheck, you're just inviting disaster because you're just turning it over to the other team. They're coming back at us, now we're spending energy defending and we're just getting worn down and trying to get pucks out and that's a victory.
"I don't want to take creativity away from our guys, but we've got to make the right plays," Housley said. "We've got to realize if the numbers are in our favor or not in our favor and we've got to make a smart decision. Put the onus on them playing defense ... establish our forecheck and then eventually when you do that, it's like a football game, right. It's like field position. You create that territory and we need that territory for us early in the game where the gaps will then open up after."