Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Breaking Point

(Note: I've kind of given up on individual game recaps for now.  This started when my DVR failed to record the Devils game - aka. "the last time they didn't suck" - and every game since then has had the same maddening result.) 

I'm not sure there's ever been a more frustrating time as a Sabre fan.

It's clear that this is a majority opinion - that Sabre fans are at their breaking point.  That breaking point came in the third period last night, when Tim Connolly, he of the two turnovers that led to two backbreaking shorthanded goals last night as well as eleventy billion other giveaways, was actively booed by the HSBC Arena crowd every time he touched the puck.

Let that sink in for a minute.  We've booed enemies like Chara, Jagr, and Ovechkin.  We've booed the Sabres off the ice during bad games.  We've heckled, well, pretty much any backup goalie we've ever had.  But to boo one of our own?  We've become Ranger fans, people.

I've seen worse games than last night's clunker against the Bruins, mind you.  But none of them have come at the tail end of a 3-8-2 streak to begin the season that has left the Sabres dead last in the league.  There have been worse stretches of Sabres hockey - most recently a 10-game winless streak in '07-'08 - but having it happen at the beginning of a season feels more depressing because there has been no hot start, no recent four-game winning streak, no success of any kind this season to fall back on.

That word - "success" - is a foreign one for the Sabres right now.  The only thing the Sabres have succeeded at is being consistently terrible at all aspects of hockey.  Let's look at a little list of failures in a season full of them:
  • The forwards not named Roy don't generate good scoring pressure, and none of them are backchecking well.
  • The defense shows little awareness, gets burned frequently, and is often seen standing around doing nothing.  
  • The goaltending has been subpar by usual Ryan Miller standards.  
  • The penalty kill, second in the league last year, has killed off an abysmal 76.4% (a full 10 percent less than last year!) and sits in 27th place.  (Phil of Black and Blue and Gold suggested that the absence of Toni Lydman is a big reason for the slide.  He's probably right about that.)
  • Related to the above: only five teams have given up more power play chances than Buffalo (55).  Combined with the poor kill rate, the end result is that only Edmonton (15) has given up more power play goals than the Sabres (13).  That's one power play goal per game.
  • Not content with being ineffective, the 22nd ranked power play unit (a measly 13.5%) has now decided to actively hurt the team by giving up shorthanded goals - three in the last two games.
  • There is no question about it anymore - Tyler Myers is officially experiencing a sophomore slump.  He is a league-worst -12 through 13 games.  Minus Freakin' Twelve!
  • Rob Niedermayer has added absolutely nothing.
  • Craig Rivet has been so bad that despite being the captain, he needed to be benched for two games.
  • This team has been incapable of responding to adversity.  Go down by a goal, and it becomes two.  Let a team bump Miller (as in the Philly game), become unraveled.  Take a penalty, take three more of them.  Last night, the Sabres started very strong - they kept the puck in the Boston zone for long stretches, and when Boston cleared, the puck got no further than the red line before being pounded back into the zone.  Then Tim Connolly happened, and the Sabres mentally closed up shop for the evening.  We're thirteen games into the season and this team has not yet won a game after trailing.  Lack of mental toughness might be the most hideous aspect to observe about this team right now.
(Side note: the above list was born in a post I initially entitled "After 12 Games, A 12-Pack of Concerns About the Sabres".  It's too bad I didn't get that list posted before the 13th game.  The 12-pack reference was appropriate given that I want to drink a 12-pack every time I watch this team.)

The lack of mental toughness is disturbing, but I still think it's too early to talk about firing Lindy Ruff.  I haven't agreed with many of his decisions as of late - why the hell is Tyler Ennis being wasted on a line with Niedermayer and Grier?  Why bench Butler when he's been decent the last few games? Why has Tim Connolly not been benched but Craig Rivet (mercifully) was?  Why does he keep pairing Connolly with Vanek, knowing they cause each other to loaf?  But to me, canning Lindy Ruff is the answer only if the question is "How can the Sabres best overreact to this situation?"  Who would you replace him with?  Perhaps Kevin Dineen, current coach of the Portland Pirates, might be an option - but is he ready?  Like it or not, I think Lindy has had enough success over the last 12 years that he's learned the right to try to correct this mess.  Nobody likes this point, but it's still worth noting that this is largely the same roster he won a division championship with last year.  If he can't turn it around, then maybe you start to think about a replacement.

There have been a small handful of bright spots.  Derek Roy has had a great start with 13 points in 13 games - he's the leading goal scorer and the leading assist-erer - and generally looks like he cares more than most of the others.  Drew Stafford looks like he's starting to figure things out and has eight points.  Jordan Leopold has been fairly solid.

But if things don't change soon, the Sabres will be saving me money in my least favorite way: by denying me the opportunity to buy playoff tickets.


  1. I remember going to the Minnesota game last year and Sabres fans booed the hell out of Patrick Lalime. As a fan of not only this team but the game itself, I pretty much refuse to boo anyone unless they're an absolute dick, not if they're playing badly. I didn't chime in during the Connolly booing even though I was completely disgusted with the effort last night. I just laughed to myself.

  2. I was at that Minnesota game too and I thought I remembered that Lalime was heckled more than booed... you know, Bronx cheers and all that. But you're probably right. Lalime was terrible during that stretch and really infuriated people. And in a roundabout way, that's kind of my point... that while it's easy to boo the team for bad play, it tends to take an awful lot for us to boo an individual player.

    I'm with you on not booing, by the way. It doesn't feel right to me. I may yell angry things at them but booing somehow feels like it's crossing a line.