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Sabres Notebook: Kane expects more from himself

It's been the best offensive start for Evander Kane in his nine years in the National Hockey League.

Through the first 20 games, he scored 11 goals, the quickest start of his career.

He scored again on Monday night, his team-best 12th of the season, pulling up in the faceoff circle and firing a shot past Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky for the Buffalo Sabres second goal of the night. Kane then promptly drew a penalty, rushing the crease on the next shift.

But it all ended in a 3-2 loss to the Blue Jackets in Key Bank Center.

The personal numbers are nice. But Kane expects more out of himself. Especially as the team keeps losing.

"It's tough. You want both," Kane said. "I think hopefully it turns around here and it starts to come. We've got to find ways to generate more. Am I happy with the start personally? Yes, but do I want more? Absolutely. I think I can be producing more. I think I could be producing more offense. I think the team could be producing more and I think we have the guys in this room to do that."

While his teammates struggle to find the back of the net, Kane has been the only consistent offensive threat for the Sabres this season. He had 11 points in 11 games during October for his first point-per-game month since January 2014. Since netting his first goal last season on Dec. 3, 2016, Kane has scored 40 goals in his last 79 games.

The secret to his success? Shooting the puck. Kane leads the team with 96 shots on goal. You can't score if you don't shoot.

"Everybody wants to produce. Everyone wants to put the puck in the net so the way you do that is by taking the puck to the net and simplifying your game," Kane said. "Sometimes making plays means putting the puck on net or taking it to the net and we need to do a lot more of that if we want to create more off opportunity and score more goals."

That's what the Sabres did in the final 10 minutes on Monday. They shot the puck, skated hard toward the goal, and played with urgency.

Now if only the Sabres could start games that way.

"It's a mindset. It's an attitude," Kane said. "It's kind of an 'eff-you' attitude especially when the situation is where we have nothing to lose. I don't understand the starts. We scored two goals tonight but we didn't get our first goal until the 10 minute mark of the third period. We're not creating enough offensively. When we do decide to put pucks on net it creates opportunities to make plays off those shots if they don't go in.

"We need to play like we have nothing lose, because we don’t at this point."

***

It was two years ago when Justin Falk split his season between the AHL Lake Erie Monsters and the Columbus Blue Jackets, staying with the Monsters for the Cleveland-based team's run to the 2016 Calder Cup Championship.

That run to a championship has made all the difference. For the Blue Jackets. Because playing in the postseason has its advantages, particularly when trying to build a winning culture throughout an organization.

"Any chance you get to play in a playoff-type atmosphere, those games are different," said Falk, now in his second season with the Buffalo Sabres. "Whatever level, you can take something from that. And if you look at their lineup across the board, they have guys that were on that team as well. They're progressing well in their careers and gained a lot of experience and confidence in that aspect. It was a great year there. I had a lot of fun with those guys and good memories."

The Blue Jackets roster featured six players who were part of that 2016 Calder Cup champion team with Lake Erie: defenseman Zach Werenski, forwards Sonny Milano, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Markus Hannikainen, and Josh Anderson, along with back-up goalie Joonas Korpisalo.

It's no surprise, then, that Columbus is having success with the help of players developed in the American Hockey League. It's part of building an organizational culture, one where work ethic and attention to detail lead to winning. It's something Falk has noticed throughout his career, which includes 270 AHL games with the Houston Aeros, Iowa Wild, Lake Erie Monsters, and Rochester Americans.

"The one thing I've noticed, maybe just because of me personally … is you can't change who you are," Falk said. "I've done a lot of bouncing around and I've seen guys prepare really well in Rochester and expect things to go well and expect to get called up and as soon as they get here expect things to just keep going smoothly. I've also seen guys just not put in the time in Rochester or wherever in the minors and expect a call-up and soon as they actually do get called up then all of a sudden they're preparing. You've got to be really focused and dedicated, committed to the process of being a good pro on and off the ice and all that so when opportunity does present itself, you take advantage of it."

While there are always individual opportunities throughout the course of a season (see Buffalo's 105 games lost to injury through the first 20 games for example), the development in the AHL contributes to a longer-term cultural shift. While there are adjustments to make from the AHL to the NHL, learning to win is learning to win.

And the good news for Sabres fans is that the Amerks are learning to win. Monday morning, Rochester was in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with a 9-5-1-1 record.

"Everybody's buying in," Amerks coach Chris Taylor said last week in Blue Cross Arena. "We didn't think we'd be using our depth as much as we are, especially on defense, but we have been and everybody's been buying in. That's what we tried to bring in – good people wiling to work hard every day and care about each other. That's what we're doing. And the guys are caring. I think that's why we're having a little bit more success."

 

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Jacob Josefson skated with the Sabres in their morning practice. It's the first time with the team since he sustained a lower body injury and went on injured reserve Oct. 17. Josefson missed his 15th game Monday night. Sabres coach Phil Housley said it's a day-to-day situation.

Housley also gave an update on defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen who missed his eighth game with an upper body injury.

"He's in the same situation. He's skating but he's still in a week-to-week situation now," Housley said of Ristolainen. "But it's good to see all these guys on the ice working themselves back."

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