When he moved to center from right wing, Brian Flynn strived to keep his game simple. Nothing fancy. Nothing risky. He wanted to keep everything basic as he centered the line of Corey Tropp and Marcus Foligno
“Obviously I haven’t done it in a while so I’m just trying to keep it simple and concentrate more on the d-zone than cheating offensively right now,” Flynn said.
Flynn’s focus may come from a position move, but it was the focus for all the Buffalo Sabres as they went back to practice Monday at First Niagara Center after a disappointing defensive effort in a 3-1 loss to Detroit.
The team worked for the better part of 40 minutes on defensive zone coverage with an emphasis on playing from instinct rather than from overthinking or reacting, along with increasing communication.
“We have to start doing things instinctive,” interim coach Ted Nolan said. “We just kind of react after the fact. A lot of our problems are because of breakdowns. We’re going to try and correct that so that one hand knows what the other one does.
“We talked about communication, talking down low. We’re a very quiet team. We don’t talk enough. I’ve always said good communication eliminates duplication so you don’t always end up doing someone else’s job.”
Flynn isn’t exactly a chatterbox but his hockey sense has helped him make his way into the NHL and is what has impressed Nolan in his first weeks on the job.
The 25-year-old Flynn was signed as a free agent by the Sabres after Flynn finished his senior season at the University of Maine in 2012.
He played 45 games for the Rochester Americans before making his NHL debut on March 2, 2013 against the New Jersey Devils.
This season, he has three points (two goals, one assist) in 24 games with the Sabres, missing just one as a healthy scratch in Philadelphia last week.
“The one thing I like about Flynn is his hockey IQ,” Nolan said. “He’s a very smart player. He’s got to be a little bit stronger, but we all have to be a little bit stronger. I like his hockey sense. He jumps in. He’s got a very quiet demeanor. He doesn’t say too much but he always listens. He pays attention and he does what we ask him to do.”
Flynn will take the compliment, although he points out that being a smart player is something he has always required to be in order to succeed.
“It’s nice but I need to be a smart player,” Flynn said. “I’m 180 pounds and I’m not going to go knock guys off the puck and stuff like that. If you’re a smaller guy you better be able to be smart and be able to skate.
“That’s been the same thing my whole life at every level. Colleges didn’t even think I’d be able to play because they thought I was too small or too weak. Every level you go up, you just adjust and try to figure out what works and play a smart game.”
The lines at practice were the same as in the game Sunday and Nolan expects to keep them relatively intact to reinforce his message of consistency.
“We have to keep them the same. When we ask the players to be consistent, we have to be consistent with our message and our delivery,” Nolan said. “We can’t work on defensive zone coverage one day and forget it about for the next two weeks. We have to do it on a consistent basis and same thing with the lines. We have to keep them somewhat consistent so you learn what each and everyone does on the line.”
Patrick Kaleta is expected to be back in the Rochester Americans lineup Wednesday. Kaleta missed the last four games with a lower body injury. He was assigned to the Amerks on Nov. 3 after his 10-game NHL suspension was completed.