The Sabres lost their first game of the season last night, and it was everything that we could have wanted, and more.
It was the debut of a brand new team after a tumultuous pair of tank seasons, and boy, was the packed house at the FNC excited to start something new. There was, of course, Jack Eichel, and many other new Sabre names. There were so many new names out there, that sometimes I didn’t have enough eyeballs for all of them.
For the first 2 periods, it turned out I didn’t need so many eyeballs. Aside from some pretty consistently impressive rushes from Evander Kane, most of the young roster looked nervous. Their decisions were rushed, and the Ottawa Senators rushed over them in waves. Robin Lehner let in a goal with only 30 seconds in, and left in the 2nd period with an ominous looking leg injury. The injury would prove to be the worst moment of the night, and has put the young season already in jeopardy – but you can hit the Interwebs for more of that doom and gloom on your own. This recap is more about our first glimpse of greatness.
In the third period, it seemed the Sabres finally had their feet wet enough and their backs sweaty enough to shake off the Sens and get to work. Eichel started to fly with Kane, and joined with Zemgus Girgensons, they became a force to be reckoned with (I’m not sure – do we call them the KEG line? Maybe the EKG line, since they put my heartbeat on hold for a few moments attacking the net with a passion, speed and precision that I have not seen in years. Ah, it’s far too early to name lines that have not been set yet, but I digress.)
It would be at the 9:11 mark when Eichel would score his historic goal. Fed by a marvelous pass by Marcus Foligno (mark that name down, trivia nerds), he calmly, momentarily let Sens netminder Craig Anderson (mark that one down, too) get into position, before rifling the puck into the very small spot of daylight left in the crease. Top shelf, of course, where those cookies are stored. Rick Jeanneret screamed “JEICHEL,” and continued with every other thought that occurred to him in a frenzy, as the Sabres brand new goal song kicked in.
It was bliss. Pure and unadulterated fun was back at the FNC. The place was swingin.’ Soon, Evander Kane collected a puck behind the net and wrapped it around for the 2-2 tie, and the Sabres were putting the hockey world on notice one “Here we go now!” at a time.
A coach’s challenge would negate that Kane goal (a tedious, drawn out process that was clumsy and awful – more on that another day), but it could not negate the howl that Evander let loose when he slid that puck into the net, and it couldn’t negate his pure aggression when he slammed his stick into the bench upon hearing it was getting called back. I absolutely loved his fire all game long. It’s something we’re going to enjoy all season. He never stops, he never quits.
We’ll call it a day there for the recap. Sure, on the box score you’ll see that the Sabres lost the game, 3-1. But as far as I’m concerned, the fans were treated to a buncha kids rallying together late in a tough, heavily hyped and anticipated debut, to willfully make that game a 2-2 tie.
The end of the game left our hearts full, yet wanting more. We still want that first win of the season, and we’ll get it soon. But something about this team tells me that this will be a common sort of feeling. This team is so good, it’s always going to have us wanting more – wins, playoffs, and eventually a Cup or three. It’s a feeling you get with the great teams.
And that’s not hyperbole.
After the game, there was an exchange between Sens GM Bryan Murray and Coach Dan.
Hockey sincerity is the best sincerity in sport.
Bryan Murray was feeling a bit of the same thing fans were at the end of this one. There were some signs of greatness on the ice last night, signs of thing to come.
Now, I’d like to introduce you to a new segment at BSN called “The Kid Line.” It’s a special place where one very small but precocious hockey fanatic will be weighing in with an opinion or two of the team of his generation. Watch out Sabres, my boy doesn’t hold back any punches. He’s usually spot on, (and refreshingly hilarious) so pay attention.
THE KID LINE
Today features a pair of observations from last night’s event. As per usual, his wit scored more RT’s than his father:
That gem came late in the game, when the Sabres were down 3-1, and I was feeling down too. Watch the games with your kids as much as you can. They’re good medicine, and great company.
There he is! I can finally see his face again!
That one was during the player introductions. Eichel, Kane, Reinhart, O’Reilly, Ennis and co. – we love you all, but it’s pretty clear by the volume at which he said this that it’s going to take a lot from all of you to get some room on his poster wall alongside Zemgus Girgensons.
The fun is back, everyone.
The Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes are beginning a 5 game playoff series, of sorts. The winner gets a guaranteed shot at McEichel. The loser gets to sweat through the lottery and hope no other team usurps their place.
The good news for Sabres fans is that they’ve got a one game head start in the series. They should, as has been projected all season, complete Tim Murray’s project and finish out at the bottom.
Cheers to Micah Black McCurdy for supplying these calming sets of data throughout the season. Of course, no mathematical model, even those as consistent as his, is a guarantee. It’s a projection, and the Sabres and Yotes are now entering an extremely small 5 game sample size. My money remains with the math, but I have to recognize both scenarios, as they are now both entirely plausible.
So what happens if the Sabres finish 29th?
I imagine a lot of you will be pretty upset. There will be plenty of finger wagging, but there is no where to truly rest blame in this situation. The GM did his job in assembling the worst team model in the history of advanced statistical data. The coach could not find a way to upset that model. The players did some hockey things, and most of those things were horrendous, as planned. The fans cheered for the wrong team, but it’s folly to believe that some sort of magical hockey witchcraft descended on the franchise as a result.
Still, there will be plenty of upset and disappointment to go around. It will take time to get over missing out on a generational talent. That’s human nature; it takes time to process a loss. But fans will come around, and learn to embrace whomever the Sabres pick at 3rd, and learn to get excited again about the future of this prospect-loaded franchise.
Fans should take comfort in the fact that Tim Murray hasn’t put all his eggs into one basket. Just as any great mathematical model cannot guarantee a result, any team perfectly engineered to finish last cannot be guaranteed a thing. There are always backup plans in sports. Rest assured that if the Sabres do miss out on McEichel that there is a plan B, a plan C, and a plan D, etc.
At the end of this dreary season, the Sabres brass and fans may not get the trophy talent they wanted, but there are plans there for GMTM to utilize his mountain of assets within any given scenario.
Try to remember, that for the duration of this “5 game playoff,” that:
- We still have the upper hand
- There is always a Plan B
Hey there, Sabres.
Hi, Sabres fans.
You’ve endured a hell of a time the past two seasons on the ice. The fanbase has been there with you, suffering the ups and downs of the tumultuous rebuild. You’ve had to emerge out of that locker room every game, and put up an intense physical effort for a team that you knew was designed to implode. The fans knew that too, but they’ve still filled the stands.
Sticktaps all around.
You all deserve an award for sticking it out during all of this. For some of you Sabres players, that award may be in the form of a trade to a contending team. Good luck if that becomes the case – but don’t forget us if you become an UFA – Buffalo is going to be a ridiculously fun team to play on in the very near future.
Most fans reading this would assume I mean the fan award should be McEichel. I’d love the opportunity to cheer for a superstar, but pegging the award part of all of this on just one name is a bit myopic. The real reward for fans will be the return to good – even great – hockey. That will be a team thing, and it will happen with McEichel or without.
We’re nearing the end of the hard part, everyone, and isn’t it a wonderful feeling? Our team is beginning to come into focus, our dreams just beginning to be realized. Those who will help Buffalo contend, players like Ristolainen, Girgensons, and Kane, are signed up and ready to go. Sam Reinhart is on his way. Goodness, I hope it was as exciting for you to read those two sentences as it was for me to type them.
The rest of the team has yet to take shape, but the excitement is here, now, for what this team will be next season.
I do not know how big of a turnaround we’ll see in 2015-16, but the goal will be making the playoffs, or at least coming as close as possible.
That’s a pretty modest goal for most teams. In Buffalo, it’s a massive change of perspective. The rebuild, for most intents and purposes, will be dead. The long ago foretold suffering will be wiped away from our consciousness and experience, one more game, one more win at a time.
For those players who leave us tomorrow, and for those who stay, thanks for the being a part of this, and take comfort in the fact that your days playing as assets or commodities are coming to a close.
For the fans who have argued and cheered and who have argued about what to cheer for, thanks for showing your honesty and for showing up to these games. Your days spent entrenched on divisive sides of toxic arguments are coming to a close.
So once more: sticktaps all around.
Now, let’s go and get something shiny to put inside this place.
With their 14th regulation loss in a row, the Buffalo Sabres are in danger of matching one of the most embarrassing of all NHL team records – 17 L’s in a row was achieved by the Caps (1974-75) and Sharks (1992-93). Fans and media have been driven into mobs, and the discourse happening right now is mob-ugly. Meanwhile, much has been done by the team to try to stave off relieving the Caps and Sharks of their infamous listing. Well, as much as can be done.
The players have tried closed door meetings. They’ve run out of things to say.
Play your guts out, get gutted. That can’t be a good feeling.
The coach stands behind his podium after each loss, repeating mostly the same things about the same mistakes that have earned the same results. He’s got no insight left on a team that has competed to its capacity against the other NHL clubs that were put together to win this season. He’s coaching up a team that’s not supposed to win for another year or more.
Fans on social media are desperate for anything to talk about aside from the losing, and in such cases, the expected stink of rumors, trade proposals, buyout wishes, and firings is pervasive in the feed. Arguments are turning spiteful, especially between those that have labeled themselves as “tankers” or “purists.” This dissention in the ranks comes off often as septic and cruel, but it’s a symptom of the mental/social disease of being somehow obligated to support an historically bad team in one logical way or another.
So what’s the cure? What is a fan base to do, to feel less lousy?
This is a season like no other in modern team history, so the best advice I can offer is to take a step off of each other’s throats.
Really, the only thing you can do is embrace the pain, and be happy that you still care. If it hurts, it means you’re still invested. You’re here to see this through – to get to the end of the rebuild and enjoy the payoff. If you’ve reached the point where you’ve lost interest, or become completely indifferent, you may have a hard time coming back next season when the increments of improvement may not happen as quickly as you may want. (Trades can certainly accelerate the transition back to winning, but a team with centers like Grigorenko, Reinhart, and McEichel – as talented as they may be – is far too young down the middle to be successful for a while.)
Most importantly, and plausibly the most overlooked point about this trying season, is to try to remember that it’s not a “tank.” It’s a rebuild, and it didn’t begin this season.
We all came into this together, and we’ll come out of it together. The best thing we can do in the interim is to ditch the virulent “tank” talk and remember that a rebuild is a process. It’s a huge body of work that isn’t accomplished quickly.
Feel like cracking a joke about tanks? Feel free. It’s cathartic.
Feel like professing your dedication to the team, and finding yourself unable to accept a loss? Go ahead. Wear your heart on your sleeve. Ain’t no shame there.
Just lay off with the bickering. Just as the coach and players are trying to find ways to win, we’re all just trying to find ways to cope.
No one ever said the rebuild would be easy. Just wait. Don’t give up your season tickets. Stay with the pain – stay invested.
This team, when all of this is over, is going to be a marvel to watch.
The Buffalo Sabres have won six out of their last seven and the fanbase has been whipped up into a frenzy.
There’s two sides in the frenzy, and they’ve dug their trenches. On one side of the battlefield are the “tankites” (not sure who minted that term, but it’s so cutesy that it is loathsome, which was probably the point). On the other side, we’ve got the contingent of fans that like to toss around novelty phrases such as “Real fans don’t choose to root against the team.”
Then, there’s a third group of fans kind of caught up in the middle. I count myself of one of these fans getting whipped up by the crossfire, because I am not cheering against the team, and I’m not rooting for a tank. What I want, and what I think all fans want, is long term sustainable success. I want, like all of you, for the team to play well.
Are wins fun? Heck yea. Is 6 wins in the last 7 games something to cheer about? Sure. It’s been fun. Is the team really playing well?