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Buffalo Sabres At St. Louis Blues Preview

Neither team has been playing up to their standard of play.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at St. Louis Blues Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Sabres have lost four straight games, though one loss was a shootout loss, and one was an OTL to the New Jersey Devils. They have the fewest goals in the league - which should make the Blues happy, because that means that a total blow-out like Saturday night’s is unlikely. Also helping the Blues’ cause are the injuries to Ryan O’Riley and Dmitry Kulikov, neither of whom will be playing tonight.

Don’t forget, the Blues had their magic practice Monday that should leave them more on-message with a tighter defense.

“After the game in Columbus there was a really good feeling on level of importance, level of leadership, defined leadership, all that stuff, so we could have direction,” Hitchcock said. “The body language and the communication coming back to St. Louis was something we were hoping for. We saw it.

“I told the coaches yesterday when we were off and I told them this morning we’re going to see a hell of a practice and a great focus. I felt really good about it. So I know it’s a difficult loss, but I felt really, really good about it. I know we got to play the game and the points count. It was the step we were looking for and found it. Hopefully we can really build now and really define our direction and define our identity and define how and who we want to play against and how we want to play.”

It’s good that the team is treating Saturday night’s embarrassment as a building point on top of an epiphany; what would go further is the utilization of it as a building block to success. If the Blues come out flat and stay flat, the practice and the post-practice interviews will come across as merely lip service born out of frustration. The Blues’ three third-period goals Saturday night are a place to start.

Nail Yakupov won’t be in tonight - he was benched through half of the game Saturday due to what Hitchcock characterized as positioning issues. Yakupov is a freelancer, something that won’t work with Hitch and this coaching staff. To his credit, he sounds like he knows what he has to do:

“I’m not learning, we’re not in school like 11 years and learn how to play hockey,” Yakupov said. “It’s not a hard game. It’s a smart game, but it’s not hard. If you’re not stupid, you understand how to play this game. Obviously every coach has a different system. (But) in this world and this league right now, the way teams play, it’s all about fast, and it’s all about how we’re going to get the puck back.

“It wasn’t really hard for me to get the system. It was a couple of days hard because I just got to know where I’m going, then I get it and now I know how to play the system. It’s easy, I know how to play and I know what game to play.”

Of course, the way he’s saying it makes him sound like he’s none too pleased with the benching, the system, or something along those lines. Square peg, meet round hole.