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Weathering The Storm

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What in the H-E-double-hockey-sticks happened against the Pittsburgh Penguins? How can a team completely fall apart like that? We’re not going to make the playoffs with a team like this! We should trade Miller, Stafford and Roy, fire Regier and Ruff, burn the city to the ground and start over from scratch!

Ok, I’m overdoing it a bit. But it’s still pretty chaotic with all the injuries. Heck, even Thomas Vanek didn’t practice on Monday, sending tendrils of fear all through Sabres Nation. It’s been bad, and many are calling for heads to roll, for players to be traded, for Ruff to be fired… and worse. Wow.

A big part of the problem may be that we have a lot of history and buildup with the current team. Expectations were high even before Terry Pegula bought the team. Then he came in raised the bar even higher and said, “We’re going to hit this mark”.

Yeah, these Sabres are all over the map with their play, but that’s to be expected when your entire team consists of the entire roster of your minor league team, minus perhaps a goalie. When Lindy Ruff was asked about getting back to consistency he responded thusly:

“I don’t think you can talk about that until you get your team back,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “You’re looking at a line out there of [Evgeni] Malkin and [Chris] Kunitz, and I’ve got [Zack] Kassian, [Paul] Szczechura and Luke Adam on the ice. You’re asking a lot out of the kids, and they’ve played hard for us. But we need some bodies back.” (Source – Buffalo News)

On top of the injuries, another thing that really makes it hard for us fans right now is that we don’t know what we’ve got in this team. Unlike say, the Boston Bruins or Detroit Red Wings, we cannot unequivocally say we’re going to make the playoffs and be a real threat to go deep and win the Stanley Cup. And unlike the Columbus Bluejackets or New York Islanders we are not totally out of it and looking just to rebuild over the next year or two. No, the Sabres are… well, a pretty talented but young team with a lot of injuries.

And sure, there are a lot of negatives going on right now that we can point to as validation for hitting the panic button. For example, Ryan Miller’s stats are horrible. He has a GAA of 3.12, good for 37th in the NHL, with a save percentage of .902 (32nd in the league.) We also let a guy named Sneep score against us in his very first NHL game! Sneep! I’m sure he has a 1st name but I’d like to pretend otherwise. Sounds like a name from some children’s book. It is, you say?

 Weathering The Storm

The Sabres saw a Sneep. It lulled them to sleep. They barely even made a peep. They were in much too deep. (Dr. Seuss, I'm not.)

So with everything going crazy right now, some might point out the example of the Philadelphia Flyers who made some moves in the offseason that seemed insane at the time. But so far, trading Jeff Carter and Mike Richards has turned out pretty well for them. It feels good to hit the “detonate nukes” button. (It’s such a pretty, shiny, red button.) It’s easy to place the blame on one or two guys and just get rid of them.

It’s hard to not press the button.

But I don’t think we need to do that. Nor is it time to do so … yet. Now, I’m not trying to look at things through rose-colored glasses or tell you that everything is going to be just peachy (or be preachy). I’m just saying that Ted Black and crew deserve some time before we rush into destroying things that the Sabres have taken years to build. Shouldn’t Regier and Ruff get at least one full season under the new ownership to see what they can do? Haven’t they earned that? Same goes for the players.

Like Lindy Ruff teaches, perhaps we shouldn’t get too high or too low. Maybe we should just enjoy the season as it unfolds and take the long view. We’ll have some amazing hockey and some crap games as well. As the season progresses, the Sabres will hopefully gain more chemistry and consistency.

With that should come wins and a playoff spot. And if the younger guys’ streak of nastiness can mesh with the cores scoring ability? Come playoff time they could be downright dangerous. We just need to weather this storm for a while.

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Sabres Emerging as a Beast in the East

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The Sabres have yet to win a home game.

Well, that’s not technically true. One of their games in Europe was marked as a “home game” on the NHL schedule, but that’s ridiculous. If it ain’t your building, it ain’t your building. Those were away games for all teams involved.

CoolHandLuke 300x194 Sabres Emerging as a Beast in the East

"Cool Hand Luke" Adam has been a nice surprise for the Sabres so far - but you'd be hard pressed to sense any kind of surprise from him.

In any event, the Sabres are 5-1-0 in the infancy of the 2011-12 NHL regular season, their only loss coming at home, against the hated Carolina Hurricanes. The Buffalo News’ headline of that game read “Hurricanes Spoil Sabres’ Homecoming.” Fair enough, but consider the fact that the boys in Blue and Gold allowed two short handed goals in that game, and they really spoiled it for themselves.

So far, the best way to beat the Sabres, actually the only way, is to have them beat themselves.

Here’s some early season portents of success for the march towards the playoffs:

  • The Sabres have 10 points out of a possible 12.
  • They lead the NE Division – Toronto is one point behind (having played only one road game), Boston and Ottawa trail by 4 and 6 points respectively (and both have played seven games). Montreal is in the basement, with an épouvantable 1-4-1 record.
  • Hey – since Pegula took over, the Sabres are 21-5-4 in the regular season. Talk about a smart investor buying in at the right time.
  • Or is it that the players are the ones buying in? In 10 games, Thomas Vanek has 10 points (6 goals, 4 assists). He’s not known for fast starts – could this be one of his best seasons? Jason Pominville has 9 points (2 goals, 7 assists) – and as Sabres PR staffer Ian Ott pointed out last night, Pommers has 19 points (6+13) in his last 23 games, dating back to 3/25/11. To top that, he added that Vanek “hasn’t gone two games without a point in those last 23 games.”
  • More from Ott: “Vanek is now 5th in Sabres history with 36 GWG, two behind Andreychuk for 4th. His 210 goals are one shy of Mogilny for 10th. That’s Miller’s 23rd career shutout. Second in Sabres history to Dominik Hasek (55). Miller’s now nine wins from tying Hasek’s total (234).” Any complaints about Vanek and Miller right now are laughable.
  • Let’s not forget rookie “Cool Hand Luke,” who has put in 6 points (3+3) in six games between Vanek and Pommers.
  • Buffalo trails only two teams in points in the NHL standings, let alone the Eastern Conference standings. The two ahead of them, Washington and Pittsburgh, are at the 12 point mark (though it’s taken the Pens 9 games to get there).
  • The Sabres goals for/goals against ratio is tops in the NHL at 20GF/10GA. Take away those two dreadful shorthanded goals against in the Carolina game, and we’re looking at a ratio of 20/8. (Washington is 23/13, Pittsburgh 26/21.)
Remember, the Sabres are doing all of this on the road. As Harry Neale said just before puck drop last night, coaches “find about a lot about their team on the road.” So far, Lindy Ruff is learning some very good things about his boys.
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