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Sabres take a Sunday, Fun Day approach to stay positive

It was the last drill of a 30-minute practice in KeyBank Center on Sunday morning. Players were taking breakaways against the two goalies, Sabres regular Chad Johnson and the team's occasional emergency and practice goalie Ryan Vinz.

Jack Eichel went up against Vinz and clanked a shot off the post. After Vinz made another stop, Eichel yelled, "sign this guy up!"

It was a lighthearted moment at the end of a lighthearted practice, one meant to try and bring some joy to a Buffalo Sabres lineup that has failed to produce results.

And results are the name of the game in the National Hockey League.

The practice came after the Sabres gave a up late goal in a 3-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Saturday. Buffalo finished October with a 3-7-2 record. The opening month of the season included a four-game losing streak with back-to-back wins only once.

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While the Sabres certainly need practice to work on details, systems, and all the little things that keep going wrong, it was Sunday Fun Day in KeyBank Center. All seriousness all the time is a recipe for burnout and sometimes a little fun can create a positive light from a dark record.

"You know it's not easy when you're not winning games. It can be a drag coming to the rink and it's going to be a long year if that happens," Sabres forward Kyle Okposo said. "But you have to find ways to stay positive. That's what's going to turn this around is guys not playing from a place of frustration and from a place of negativity. You have to play knowing you're going to get out of it and play from positivity."

"Usually winning makes you have fun," forward Jason Pominville said. "It's a lot more fun when you win. But you want to keep guys loose and not have guys be tight all the time. Today was a good example of it where guys were loose, worked up a good sweat, and now we can move on."

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The four-day break provides two opportunities for the Sabres – a chance to rest and a chance to get back to the practice drawing board.

First up, rest. Five players took a maintenance day on Sunday – Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, Rasmus Ristolainen, Marco Scandella, and Robin Lehner. Through Sunday, the Sabres were tied for the most games played with 12. That's a lot of games in a short span which causes some early wear and tear on the body.

"You can take your mind off hockey a little bit," Sabres defenseman Jake McCabe said of the light Sunday practice and Monday's day off. "You can rest and recover. A couple of guys are banged up. Everyone's got some injuries they're playing through. You always have bumps and bruises so you take these days and use them wisely as far as rest goes and just get the mind right for the next stretch of games where we obviously need to put some wins together."

Their minds will need to be right by Tuesday when the team hits the ice again for two days of practice before playing in Arizona on Thursday.

And while there will be drills to help with details and address deficiencies in their game, coach Phil Housley is looking for that old hockey intangible known as "compete."

"I think we have to compete in practice. That's where it starts," Housley said. "Our practices have a lot of meaning because we're trying to dig ourselves out of a hole and trying to work on areas of the game that we have to improve, but I think overall our compete has to rise a little in practice. That's where it starts. It just seems that when we've had really good practices and paid attention to detail, it's gone into the games where we've had success."

Housley noted the team had a good practice the day before playing San Jose. The Sabres reiterated on Sunday that there were plenty of positives to take out of Saturday's loss, that the team did everything right but win the game.

"It's frustrating losing because it's a league of results," Pominville said. "You want results but at the same time you have to be realistic. I thought it was one of our better efforts where we competed, we worked hard, we made better puck decisions. We did a lot of good things and if we keep doing that, I know we've probably said it before, but if we keep doing those things, we'll give our team more chance to have success on a nightly basis."

But for others, taking positives out of losses is starting to wear thin.

"The results are what matter," Okposo said. "At the end of the season when a lot of teams are out of the playoffs, they hang their hat on playing really well. I'm not a believer in that. Good teams just do it all the time, they're able to get those results. We've got to figure out a way to turn around and not say, 'Oh we worked hard and look at the positives.' We lost the game and we have to start finding ways to win these hockey games."

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