The Problem With the Buffalo Sabres Has Been All Mental

The biggest question surrounding the Buffalo Sabres has been, what is the major contributor to their recent struggles. Some point to their atrocious power play, while others look to their lack of discipline and turnovers, and then there is this issue at the faceoff dot. While all of these things are indeed facets of the game that need to be improved upon, the catalyst of their poor performance is not a matter of Xs and Os, but is all between the ears.

(Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIRE)

(Kevin Hoffman-US PRESSWIRE)

We all been there at one time or another — having something way so heavy on your mind that you just can’t think straight as it just consumes and clouds your thoughts. That’s where many of the Sabres players have been at recently. Their mental frustrations have manifested itself onto the ice and this has been evident by their play.

All one has to do is analyze their pitfalls on the ice —  sluggish and tentative play, lack of sustained tenacity, undisciplined penalties and blown coverage —  to see that they are over thinking the game. Although this meager display of hockey is anything but amenable (as indicated by the Bronx cheers the team was serenaded with during their last two home contests), it is quite understandable given the team’s recently snapped four game losing streak, the firing of former head coach Lindy Ruff and what seems to be a spell of bad luck. However, the team’s less than desirable performance should not be mistaken for a lack of effort or a general disdain from the players.

[Also: Was Firing Lindy Ruff the Right Move?]

While it is difficult to find time to reset everything during this strike-shortened compact season, it is even more difficult to stop the bleeding. Although Ron Rolston’s first victory as a head coach in the NHL is only one game, there were some optimistic takeaways from their 2-1 victory over Steven Stamkos’ Tampa Bay Lightning.

As WGR 550’s Paul Hamilton notes, the Sabres played with a noticeably quicker pace to their game showing that they weren’t over thinking. Although this is something that Rolston has stressed since taking over the reins, the play of the team isn’t something that can be correct by following a specific system. It is something instinctive within the players. The leaders of the team’s locker room said it best when they  stressed that turning the season around isn’t about who’s behind the bench, but it falls on the honus of the players.

Another telling sign is that the team didn’t get down, after giving up the first goal of the game. It would have been very easy to fall into the “here we go again” mentality. Although far from a clean game, everyone kept their legs moving and battled hard. Their hard work paid off when fortune finally worked in their favor when Cody Hodgson scored from behind the net by banking the puck of Lightning defenseman Sami Salo. The Lightning would also hit the crossbar showing that luck was tilting back in the Sabres favor.

Again, it needs to be stressed that this is simply one game, but hopefully the team can draw some positive energy from this win. The key for the Sabres moving forward will be taking the game with the right mentality. All of the players are fortunate enough to be paid to do something they love; something that so many of us are envious of. Win or lose, they mustn’t forget to simply go out there and enjoy themselves.


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