It won’t be game plans or power plays that transform the Buffalo Sabres from laughingstock to contender. It’ll be a major personnel overhaul.
“In order to rebuild and retool, you rebuild and retool with the right people,” coach Ted Nolan said. “It’s never changed 20 years ago to today. You need the right people with the right makeup with the right character with the right drive and ambition.”
There are few signs those people are in Buffalo.
The last-place Sabres are 1-10 in their last 11 games, including a no-show, 6-1 debacle Thursday in Nashville. The Predators shellacked the Sabres with a 4-0 first period, made more disturbing to the coach because the players know they’re supposed to be competing for their future.
“They don’t give away contracts in the National Hockey League, and they certainly don’t want people who are in bottom place,” Nolan said.
The Sabres have nine games left on their schedule, starting with tonight against Tampa Bay in First Niagara Center. They have only 12 goals in the last 11 games, remaining on pace to be the worst offensive team since the NHL expanded from the Original Six.
“These are the type of games you’re going to find out character,” Nolan said. “When you go through some tough moments, that’s when character really comes to the forefront – good or bad.”
Injuries have played a role in the latest slide, with youngsters coming up to play significant roles. Nolan worries about them because there are few veterans willing to set a path for the new guys to follow.
“When you have a situation like we do, you expect those guys are the ones that will pull an inexperienced team or younger team out of it once in a while,” Nolan said. “You don’t put them deeper into it. That’s what some guys did.
“You don’t want them learning what they can learn from that first period. Habits are easy to form, good or bad, and that first period was totally unacceptable.”
Zemgus Girgensons, who’s been out since March 6 because of a lower-body injury, is set to return. He’s expected to center for Cody Hodgson and Brian Flynn.
Ville Leino, who left Thursday’s game with lightheadedness after skating just 58 seconds, is undergoing tests to determine the cause.
“It was strange what happened to him, so we’ll get some doctors to look at him,” Nolan said. “It was nothing. He just started not feeling very well. When something like that happens out of the blue, you’ve got to make sure you’re careful with it.”
Left wing Marcus Foligno began Thursday’s game on the top line with center Tyler Ennis and right wing Drew Stafford. Foligno ended it on the fourth line.
“He can’t be pulling up on the blue line,” Nolan said of the 6-foot-3, 223-pounder. “You’ve got to drive that net. You’re a big man. Big men don’t play a small man’s game. You’ve got to drive. You’ve got to hit.
“I watched him cut to the center of the ice enough in the first two periods.”
Foligno practiced on the third line Friday with center Johan Larsson and right wing Matt D’Agostini. Tyler Myers skipped the workout and will miss his second game since crashing into the goal post Tuesday in Montreal.
Goaltender Matt Hackett earned the start in Nashville after turning aside 68 of 71 shots during his first two appearances with the Sabres. He gave up four goals on 15 shots against the Predators and was mercifully pulled by Nolan after 20 minutes.
“It’s not fun,” Hackett said. “I’ve had a few good games, and then I would take a step back. It’s embarrassing for me, and I want to play better than that.”
The coach is giving him another chance. Hackett will be in the net again tonight.
“The one thing I really like about him is his competitive spirit,” Nolan said. “He’s a feisty guy, and he wants back in.”