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Road from Cup final has been difficult for Sabres' Housley and Coyotes' Tocchet

Think back five months, to that entertaining Stanley Cup final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators.

Like any series, there were all kinds of subplots. Nashville fans — both inside and outside Bridgestone Arena — put on a show unlike any seen during the NHL's climactic event. P.K. Subban accused Sidney Crosby of saying he had bad breath. Predators goalie Pekka Rinne couldn't stop a beach ball during the three games in Pittsburgh's PPG Paints Arena.

And assistant coaches Phil Housley of Nashville and Rick Tocchet of Pittsburgh, both longtime former players in the league, were the hottest names on the coaching market. That was the biggest story to folks in Buffalo, where new Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill clearly had interest in both men.

As it turned out, Botterill signed Housley and Tocchet ended up as the new man of the Arizona Coyotes. Both teams have some promising young players with a mix of veteran talent, some of it taking up big chunks of the salary cap.

And both have had dreadfully disappointing results.

When they meet Thursday night at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz., the Sabres and Coyotes hit the ice in last place in their respective conferences with a combined record of 4-18-3.

Buffalo is 3-7-2 while the Coyotes (1-11-1) tied the NHL record for worst start to a season by going 0-10-1 before Monday's overtime win in Philadelphia. It's probably a good thing for the Sabres that the Coyotes aren't still winless because Arizona would certainly target this game as a great chance for a win. As it is, Arizona is the NHL's last winless team at home (0-4-1).

Is it a relief to Housley to know his team won't have to worry about breaking the Coyotes' season-opening streak?

"In the back of my mind a little bit," the Buffalo coach admitted Wednesday in HarborCenter. "But we can't worry about where they are as a team. We've got our own battles to handle and move forward with. The game really comes down to all about us and what we're going to do."

Mike Harrington: It's Cup first for Housley, Tocchet as Sabres' coaching decision looms

The Sabres opened 0-4-1 but finished October with a 3-3-1 mark over their last seven games. Housley is keenly focused on his team's glacial progress but admitted Wednesday he took note of all the talk during the Cup final about what might lie ahead in the future for both he and Tocchet.

"You hear and see things, right?" Housley said. "Certainly it was a great honor to be mentioned with Rick and some of the other coaches that were getting circulation but I was focused on winning a Stanley Cup. We had a great run in Nashville and came close. Your effort and all your energy is going into the organization you're trying to win with. Now that I'm with Buffalo, I'm trying to do the same thing."

Tocchet's Coyotes have been hamstrung by terrible goaltending in the wake of an lower-body injury to starter Antti Raanta, who went on injured reserve Monday after playing just 91 minutes over three games. Arizona has allowed an NHL-worst 56 goals in its 13 games, and no one else in the Western Conference had given up as many as 40 entering Wednesday.

Arizona acquired Scott Wedgewood on waivers from New Jersey and he got the win Monday — even though the Coyotes blew a 3-0 lead in the third period and allowed the Flyers to score twice in the final minute to force overtime. Wedgewood then made 35 saves in Tuesday's 5-3 loss in Detroit.

The Coyotes acquired Raanta and center Derek Stepan from the New York Rangers and veteran defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson from Chicago during the offseason. They have top talent like Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Alex Goligoski on defense and NHL Rookie of the Month Clayton Keller, who has already piled up nine goals and 15 points. But no one else has more than three goals.

"We're in a rut as an organization — not these games, but for five or six years," 28-year-old Arizona GM John Chayka told last week. "You're trying to build up pieces that are going to be game-changers. That's how you win. It's not through mediocre talent or aged-out veterans. We've got a few (game-changers), and we have to wait for them to evolve."

Tocchet, however, was clearly frustrated after a recent 6-2 home thumping at the hands of the Boston Bruins.

"You don't want to babysit players, but it's just got to get harder now, right?" Tocchet said. "I hate doing that stuff, but if that's what it takes we might have to do it. Some coaches in the NHL, they skate the hell out of their guys and they come back the next night and play well, so maybe I've got to do that. I try not to be that guy. I just don't want to be a babysitter out here."

Housley has taken a gentler tack with the Sabres.

"It's just the day-to-day process in our practices, our compete and how we prepare," he said. "It's just a game by game situation. We can't look ahead. We have to make little steps for us. We have to win a game tomorrow against an Arizona team that's pretty desperate."

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