Four months ago, Phil Housley was an assistant coach as the Nashville Predators were in the Stanley Cup final. Now he's a first-year head coach of the Buffalo Sabres, a team that hasn't won a playoff series in 10 1/2 years and hasn't even played in one since 2011.
The weight of that history is heavy as the Sabres went 3-7-2 in October with a roster that includes several players who have done a lot of losing here since 2013.
"All I can judge is what I see is right now," Housley said after his team practiced for 70 minutes Tuesday in HarborCenter. "And I see a team that at key times in the game, we sort of break. We have to have a mental toughness in that area where we can't crack and that's part of the culture, too, building that reassurance. Just continue to play the way we're playing. We don't have to do anything out of the ordinary."
Housley, a huge Bills fan, gave it up to Sean McDermott & Co. for getting to 5-2 and said his club can take a lesson from all the talking points surrounding the Bills' fast start.
"What is the thing they're talking about? It's their defense," he said. "That's what's changing things for them, creating turnovers. That's the point I'm getting at. We have to take pride in that area."
Housley said more emphasis has to come from his players in the defensive end.
"We have a lot of talent in that room to win hockey games," he said. "It's our play without the puck to me that has to get better ... We have to take pride in our defense, take pride in the fact if it's 1-1, 1-0 or 2-2 that we can play in those games. Right now, we're the ones cracking."
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Housley was pleased with the practice, which feature several battle drills and got physical between players on several occasions.
"I thought we had a really good practice, he said. "Our leadership group led the way by example today and we're going to continue to need that. If we're going to turn this thing around, we have to compete in practice and I thought we did that today."
— Mike Harrington (@ByMHarrington) October 31, 2017
Justin Falk returned to practice fully and should be in the lineup to make his season debut Thursday in Arizona.
"He brings a physical element to our team that we may be missing back there," Housley said.
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Nathan Beaulieu, Josh Gorges and Zach Bogosian remained injured on the Buffalo defense and Taylor Fedun was called up Tuesday from Rochester to head West with the team this week to Arizona and Dallas.
But Falk's return and Fedun's callup likely won't mark an end in the lineup for Matt Tennyson, who has no points and is minus-6 on the season while averaging 18:09 of ice time.
Tennyson, 27, played 21:05 Saturday and was minus-2, with his failure to handle a Jason Pominville pass directly leading to Joonas Donskoi's breakaway goal that opened the scoring a few seconds after a Buffalo power play.
Tennyson is a free agent signee who has previous NHL experience with San Jose and Carolina but was ticketed for Rochester. Although he has been a huge target on social media in recent days, he continues to have Housley's support.
"We're banged up back there, he's risen above the other players to get those minutes and he's going to continue to get them," Housley said. "Would he have liked to have that little bank pass after the power play expired? Yes. Those are mistakes we have to clean up. We have to be better and have just the awareness of where we are in the power play and the game. I like the way he's played and that's why he's earning those minutes."