As much as the pandemic has changed life since the beginning of the year and as much as the Buffalo Sabres have overhauled their front office and player personnel, some things haven’t changed.
An ineffective power play (1-for-8), defensemen caught out of position, turnovers galore and an inability to make timely saves have already plagued the team. It’s added up to two straight losses to open the season and a familiar feeling of… here we go again.
Sabres Excuses Already in Mid-Season Form
The ever-positive head coach, Ralph Krueger, was already spouting mid-season clichés. “We beat them in pretty well every category except for the scoring. It was excellent to see the execution, extremely painful to see the final result. But what changed was we outskated them, we put pucks into places where we created foot races and they really struggled with that. We just ran into an extremely hot goaltender at the other end.”
Yep, running into another “hot goaltender” – what has become all too common when the opposition plays their backup to tally up a win against the Sabres. This time it was a 25-year-old rookie for the Washington Capitals, Czech Vitek Vanecek.
Ugly Start to the Season
For all the talk about coming out with purpose, playing with urgency and getting pucks on the net, the result remains the same: zero points in their first two games. Legendary broadcaster Rick Jeanneret didn’t mince words during the season opener, saying, “Parents, send your kids to bed. It’s ugly out there.”
The NHL, like any sport, is a business in which results matter. There are no moral victories, especially for a franchise that’s staring at the likelihood of missing the playoffs for a league-worst record 10th straight season.
Sabres Bakery: Turnovers and Creampuffs
In the opener, Eric Staal, a veteran with 1,200 games under his skates, made a turnover that would infuriate any Bantam coach. He gifted the puck to Jakub Vrana who beat Carter Hutton to crush the soul of a team trying to mount a comeback. Staal, skating with his head down, also took a nasty shot to the head from Capital center Nic Dowd. Like years past, it went largely unpunished by the team.
While this year’s Sabres have some legitimate skill in the lineup, it’s still lacking any snarl. The team hasn’t had a feared hitter in over a decade. The grit and sandpaper just aren’t there–there’s plenty of creampuffs to go with the turnovers.
Rusty Sabres and Routine Losses
The NHL’s East Division is filled with tough outs. Every game will be a challenge and the path to the postseason looks bleak for the Blue and Gold. In a condensed season, nights off will only be magnified as teams jockey for position nearly every other night. So far, the Sabres best players haven’t played well. They’ve been nearly invisible. They’re not paid to hit goalposts.
Memo to Krueger: the 1980s called, they want their dump and chase back. The NHL is a possession league. The best teams manage the puck and gain possession entering the zone.
“We expected rust and there was rust,” said Krueger. “We expected an adjustment to the physicality and the speed. … There were some breakdowns, too, on their part. It wasn’t just us. They gave us some chances even the first period. We had six or seven pretty good chances. It seems like it might be that way for the next few games.
With the additions of former NHL MVP, Taylor Hall, and Stanley Cup veteran Staal, the vibe around the Sabres heading into the season was promising. Alas, they finally have a deeper lineup and would be able to light the lamp.
The season is only two games old, however, with few changes to the blue line and the goal crease, this squad has already proven they’re not showing any rust. They’re exactly where they left off last season.
In other words, Go Bills!
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.”