Sabres return to practice after postponement

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BUFFALO — The Buffalo Sabres returned to practice Sunday, a day after their home game against the Boston Bruins was postponed due to NHL COVID-19 protocol.

It was their second practice under coach Don Granato, who replaced Ralph Krueger on Wednesday. The Sabres will try for their first win under Granato when they visit the New York Rangers on Monday (7 p.m. ET; MSG, MSG-B, NHL.TV).

The Sabres lost 4-1 to the Bruins in Granato’s debut on Thursday.

The Sabres didn’t practice Saturday after their scheduled game against the Bruins was postponed due to Boston forwards Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci, David Pastrnak and Craig Smith entering NHL COVID-19 protocol Friday. It was a precautionary measure for the Sabres, who had a staffer enter the protocol.

Buffalo had six games postponed and its facilities closed because of protocol from Feb. 2-13 and had nine players on the protocol list during that span.

“We spoke of it,” Granato said. “I asked what the comfort level was to continue [practice] because when this happened weeks ago everybody had great concern, ‘Is this within our group now and where’s it going?’ The players collectively wanted to continue practicing and they continued to practice at a very intense level, so that was a great response from the standpoint of if you wanted them to be focused and engaged, they were.”

The Sabres have lost 13 games in a row (0-11-2), the second-longest stretch without a win in the shootout era (since 2005-06). Another loss would match the longest mark of 14, held by the Carolina Hurricanes (2009-10), New York Islanders (2010-11) and the 2014-15 Sabres. 

“There’s no excuses heading into tomorrow,” forward Tage Thompson said. “We’ve had two really good days of practice and some time in between there to rest so just mentally gearing up for tomorrow is the focus. I think physically we’re ready to go.”

Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen is the only Sabres player who was a part of that 2014-15 Buffalo team. 

“Clearly, [the players] are engaged and searching for something different,” Granato said. “They’re searching for something more. We’ve spoken enough about obvious disappointment to where we are. You collectively and individually want to take responsibility, but it’s not good enough to take responsibility if you don’t change actions. Clearly, we’ve seen players change action. I’m very pleased with initiative that’s being taken both individually and collectively through the first couple of practices.”

Since Jan. 27, the Sabres’ only wins have come against the New Jersey Devils. Buffalo is 3-2-1 against New Jersey during that stretch and 0-16-2 against the rest of the MassMutual East Division. The Sabres have scored two goals or fewer in 15 of the 24 games played.

“Just keeping a lot of movement out there, making sure we’re playing with a fast pace, keeping our speed up,” Thompson said. “[Granato] stresses offense quite a bit. I think that’s something we’ve been struggling with, got to find ways to score. I think that’s hopefully something we can add to our game and start to see some results.”

Granato said, “We have an engaged group right now. We have a group committed to finding more and that’s the quest. We’re going to keep on that journey. We have effort, we have focus. It’s our job as coaches to lay out a plan and bring some clarity to it so they know what they’re trying to achieve and for us, the next five to seven days are really big in that regard. We have to just make sure we’re a better group incrementally through those days.”

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