Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Buffalo Bills defense has road to success for Sabres. Plus other notes

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 10-2-2017

Although not quite as stunning as the Joe Namath-lead NY Jets upsetting Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, the Buffalo Bills win in Atlanta yesterday was a big one. As the last Matt Ryan pass went incomplete with no flags on the play, some joy swept through Western New York as the Buffalo Bills left Atlanta with a 23-17 win and on this glorious Fall morning, they find themselves alone atop the AFC East with a 3-1 record.

The Bills defense was a major factor in the win and it's somewhat amazing considering they have a new secondary and some new faces sprinkled about while their highest paid defensive player has been reduce to playing a role. Show of hands--who thought the Bills would be leading the league with only 54 points allowed this season?

There were overtones of joy on WGR550 radio this morning as co-hosts Howard Simon and Jeremy White reveled in a legitimate win as opposed to spending hours talking about the finding the quarterback of the future. Simon rightfully said that he's interested in hearing what the national media had to say about the Bills and after ticking off a couple of positives thrown the Bills' way from announcers and studio hosts, Simon paraphrased something that Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy had to say about the Buffalo defense.

"Dungy said he was impressed with how (Bills defensive coordinator) Leslie Frazier has this defense playing fast and attacking," said Simon paraphrasing the former head coach. "He said they're not really doing a lot on defense, they've got two or three defenses they use and they're just playing fast."
Two years ago a supposed defensive guru in Rex Ryan took an upper-level NFL defense as head coach of the Bills and tried to reinvent the wheel. He complicated things to the point where nobody seemed to be on the same page. He was fired two years into his five-year contract.

Oddly enough the something similar happened with the Buffalo Sabres.

Two years ago Stanley Cup-winning coach Dan Bylsma took over the Sabres and instilled a complicated system that seemed to have players thinking more about where they needed to be on the ice instead of allowing them to get into the flow of the game. At times it seemed to work but last season the bottom fell out as Bylsma was effectively putting a governor on a race car. The Sabres took a step back and Bylsma was fired two years into his five-year deal.

Granted, the Sabers were coming off of their second consecutive last place finish, but the fact of the matter remains, a strong case can be made that less coaching is better.

The Sabres have a new coach this season in Phil Housley. He was a free-wheeling offensive defenseman when he played the game and throughout his tenure as an assistant coach in Nashville, he had the Predators defenseman playing in a similar way. Housley's success with that group made them the most dangerous defense-corps in the league as Nashville made it to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Housley was hired by Buffalo to bring that style of hockey to the Sabres. He has some speed to work with upon his hiring and GM Jason Botterill added more in the off season. It's a different team headed in a different direction with training camp and preseason dedicated to playing the game fast. Housley has systematic things in place but throughout camp his directive has been to skate fast, skate hard and be aggressive in all three zones. The final results haven't been there yet as the team finished preseason with a 1-4-1 record, but the product on the ice has been much easier to watch.

Professional athletes invariably refer to their trade as "playing the game," with the key work being 'game.' Although there are foundational aspects and basic systems that need to be learned, applied and developed further, it's not rocket science.

Playing the game hard and fast, without over coaching and/or a strict adherence to a quantum mechanics playbook, can net positive results. It's more fun for the players and more fun for the fans too. It took the Bills defense a few weeks to get into that groove and perhaps Housley's Sabres are on that same path right now. It might take them a few weeks, or even a month or two to get the desired results, but it's not a bad thing to play the game fast and be on the attack, just like the Bills defense.


It looks as if defenseman Taylor Fedun and forward Nicolas Deslauriers have cleared waivers and are in Rochester.

Fedun's clearing means he'll be joining Amerks returnee Casey Nelson and first-year pro Brendan Guhle as defensemen under contract with Buffalo. Rochester signees Nathan Paetsch, Adam MacWilliam and Conor Allen are also with the club.

In the process it was announced that the Amerks sent eight players to new ECHL affiliate, the Cincinnati Cyclones:

Forwards--Justin Danforth and Alex Kile
Defensemen--Arvin Atwal, Anthony Florentino, Brycen Martin and Devante Stephens
Goalies--Jonas Johansson, Jason Kasdorf

The Amerks begin regular season play on Friday as the Syracuse Crunch (TBL) visit Blue Cross Arena while the Cyclones open the season with a home date against the Kalamazoo Wings (VAN) on October 14.

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