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The Attack Zone

  • John Platzer

The Ralph Krueger Way

Ralph Krueger replaced Phil Housley as the Buffalo Sabres head coach on May 15th, 2019. The 2019/20 season would mark his first time coaching an NHL team since a brief stint with the Edmonton Oilers that ended in the spring of 2013.

Ralph has a new age philosophy. Traditionally, hockey coaches are a hard nosed group who drill their players into well oiled hockey machines. In recent years, many accounts of verbal and physical abuse by successful coaches have come into light. However, you'll be hard-pressed to find any such narrative reserved for Mr. Krueger. Quite the opposite.

Ralph Krueger is a kinder, gentler sort. He treats his players with respect and allows them the freedom to earn their way onto his roster without the fear of humiliation and intimidation. By that same token, he also gives them enough rope to hang themselves. His players love him for this. The fans question whether or not that style is effective and intense enough to lead a team to a consistently high level of performance.

Philosophically, the Sabres coach employs a game strategy which calls for all players to be accountable in each zone on the ice. Every player is responsible for covering the area of ice that is open and constitutes the most immediate need for coverage.

This applies to both puck possession situations and non puck possession situations. A player's natural position or assigned position is only relevant once play has been stabilized. The situational mechanics of his philosophy are being implemented in each practice and during each game.

The coach believes that once the players become experts in this system as well as knowing by rote how their teammates execute within this system, great success will follow. Alas, Ralph is coaching the team during a second consecutive shortened season with many first time Sabres filling key roles on his roster.

With the Sabres' last playoff appearance being ten years ago (the longest current playoff drought in the NHL) and given the fact that Buffalo has begun the current season with merely one victory in its first five games, the looming question becomes how much time does Ralph have to find success. Do the Sabres wait until the players have fully adapted, which could take a couple more seasons? How long should it take a team to internalize a new system, or more specifically this particular system?

The Sabres have not been patient with their head coaches. Ralph Krueger is Buffalo's fifth head coach in the eight years since Lindy Ruff involuntarily left the position. With such instability, both players and fans favor giving the head coach enough time to find that success, or enough rope to hang himself.

The strategy that coach Krueger is implementing appears to be sound and the roster looks as good on paper as it has in a decade. Krueger's Mr. Nice Guy routine is also a pleasant change of pace albeit perhaps a bit of an overcorrection.

The one question is, which remains to be seen, will Ralph's system hogtie the Sabres' high flying players, namely Hall and Eichel. When they're on the ice together and given their individual capabilities, one would think the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. It is concerning that Ralph's system might encumber their ability to create end-to-end rushes, which are often the most exciting aspects of the game.

The strategy that coach Krueger is implementing appears to be sound and the roster looks as good on paper as it has in a decade. Krueger's Mr. Nice Guy routine is also a pleasant change of pace albeit perhaps a bit of an overcorrection.

Crashing the net and end-to-end rushes are the plays where most goals are scored, power plays notwithstanding. Hall and Eichel are the players most likely to create an odd man rush in a five-on-five situation. If they don't score on the first attempt, crashing the net is what naturally follows providing there is not a line change in progress.

Creating those situations is the reason Eichel & Skinner had so much success five-on-five. Hall is just as fast as Skinner and has more skill.

Ralph's strategy needs to include, and perhaps should be built around, a variant designed to spring Hall and Eichel free. No one wants to hear the coach say something like, "Within this system, when executed properly, those opportunities will naturally present themselves." Sabres fans have endured enough of that kind of jargon. Let's go ahead and create some opportunities by design while still implementing the basic principals of the system. It can be done.

Due to covid-19 protocols, the Sabres 4 game road trip has been postponed. Their next game will be on February 11th against the Washington Capitals in KeyBank Center in downtown Buffalo.

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