The Buffalo Sabres’ post-game answers have become as cliché as they get. The excuses flow faster than outlet passes from their zone. The blank stares match their scoreboard total. There’s talk about adding jam to their game. Competing. Digging deeper. It’s a broken record.
“I don’t know what else to do. I don’t know what to say,” said a stymied Kyle Okposo after the Sabres dropped their sixth straight game, 5-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Sabres are 0-5-1 in their last six, 7-17-3 in their last 27 and 13-25-7 since their ten-game win streak. Of their 13 wins since the November to remember, only nine have been in regulation. The stats are dreadful. This team is failing the eyeball test, the analytics test, and certainly, the scoring test.
Who Will Pay the Price for Sabres Losing?
During an informal press conference in Florida roughly a month ago, sophomore general manager Jason Botterill refuted any thought of replacing head coach Phil Housley. He was taken aback at the very question. Now, with one regulation win in 11 games since then, there’s no doubt his coach’s seat is warming.
Related: Sabres’ Downward Spiral Continues
The Sabres have been shut out in three straight games. It’s the second year in a row they can lay claim to the dubious achievement. It’s even worse when one considers it never happened in the franchise’s first 48 years of existence.
As much as hockey is entertainment, the NHL is a results-driven business. This team is failing. Miserably.
There’s plenty of blame to go around for the current two years of misery. Jason Botterill built the rosters. Though Phil Housley can only play the hand that’s been dealt to him, his line juggling and player deployment is often maddening. Oh, and then there are the players – the ones on the ice. When push comes to shove, though, the players can’t all be fired.
As much as Botterill can take credit for the heist of the century – bringing in Jeff Skinner – he clearly took one on the chin with the return from the Ryan O’Reilly trade. His insistence on keeping Tage Thompson with the big club is another black eye. And though he’s built some promise in Rochester, the real deal is in Buffalo. And it’s dismal.
Housley’s Hot Seat
Per usual after the game, Housley tried to point out the positives in his team’s sixth straight loss. He mentioned that it was a close game until, well… it wasn’t.
He was questioned about his future and if his players have lost their pride. With every answer, he appeared stoic while towing the company line about getting ready for the next game on the schedule and being prepared for it. “I’m not concerned about anything except tomorrow when we come to work and get ready for Carolina,” said the Hall of Fame defenseman.
“I have to come to work and I have to continue to teach our guys the right things, how to play the right way, how to go to the net and continue to work,” said Housley. “We’ve got a lot of games left up here against good opponents and that’s what I have to get our focus to.”
Nothing’s Going Right for Sabres
It’s possible, if not plausible, the Sabres could lose their next four games and drop ten straight. The Hurricanes, St. Louis Blues and Montreal Canadiens are all fighting for their playoff lives, while the Maple Leafs always pose a tough test.
Firing coaches in hockey is very common. It happens a lot. But at this point, Housley may become the scapegoat for the team Pegulas. His job is to motivate his players. Instead of making the whole greater than the sum of its parts, Housley is digging a giant hole.
Fan unrest is at an all-time high, and for good reason. The playoff drought continues. The Toronto Maple Leafs have flown past the Sabres rebuild, and teams like Barry Trotz’s New York Islanders feel like light years ahead of the Blue and Gold.
Sure, the organization has a franchise center in Jack Eichel and an up-and-coming blueliner in Rasmus Dahlin. But the list doesn’t go much further even after adding unsigned Jeff Skinner, Sam Reinhart and Brandon Montour. It’s not a fluke this young roster is losing; it lacks talent, passion and an urgency to compete on a consistent basis. This team hasn’t won two games in a row since mid-December.
The Sabres haven’t had a coach last more than two years since Lindy Ruff. It’s hard to think Housley stands a chance to make it to his third.
Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”