As frustrating as these last couple weeks have been to watch, I find it very difficult to believe the real Sabres team is the team we have watched get outworked, outshot, and run out of their own building night in and night out since their 5-1 record to start the year.
It’s not as though this start couldn’t have been expected either, with so many new faces in the line-up, and a difficult travel schedule to start the season. I don’t want to give off the impression I’m content with how this team has played thus far, and I sure hope the team doesn’t feel that way.
However, I see some positives that can come out of these trying times, things that this team can build on as they work towards their ultimate goal, their first championship.
Not every player in the lineup has struggled thus far, but they’ve nearly all been guilty of poor play on occasion. There’s no point in singling out an individual culprit or two because the problems are team-wide.
Plain and simple this team just isn’t playing with the hunger and passion it takes to win for 60 minutes. They are too often following up dominant shifts or periods with extended sequences of standing around letting the other team pin them in their own zone and beat them to every puck.
Whether it is surrendering two short handed goals in their home opener, or blowing early leads, they haven’t had the killer instinct to put teams away, and keep the pedal to the metal. Sure they have some new faces, specifically Leino and Ehrhoff, who are still trying to find their place in Ruff’s system, but missing chemistry isn’t an excuse for lack of effort.
Here’s the good news, this kind of uninspired play will not be tolerated and will not continue much longer. Whether it is the coaching staff or the team captain and assistants lighting a fire under their butts, or the simple pride of not wanting to be embarrassed in front of their own fans, something is going to click for this team.
There are too many talented players in this lineup to expect this team to play this poorly much longer. Derek Roy was averaging a point per game through 35 games last year, right now he is on pace for 32 points in a full season!
Drew Stafford had his breakout year last year with 31 goals in 62 games, right now he hasn’t had a point in his last six games. Ryan Miller has had his struggles, Ville Leino, Tyler Myers, the list goes on and on.
Are these marginal players who have overachieved in the past, or are they star players underperforming in the present?
I’ll go with the latter, and I think getting taken to the woodshed a few times early in the season will serve well in humbling this team and getting them to put more emphasis on their work ethic. It’s not enough to be more talented than your opponent, you have to outwork them, and while it’s a lesson they should know already, I’d rather they learn it now than in March.
I see this as the kind of team that may take some time coming together early on, but the struggles will make them stronger, and they should get better as the year goes on. The past two seasons the Sabres played their best hockey later in the season, but seemed either beat up or burnt out come the playoffs.
This team has the talent, and the depth to improve as the season goes on, and raise their level of play in the post-season. So take a deep breath and relax Sabre fans, give this team some time to get its sea legs. The pretenders will fade (read: Toronto/Ottawa), and this Sabres team will be left standing and ready to make a deep post-season run. I’m not panicking, I’m excited. Are you?