Eight games won’t get you into the playoffs, but it can change the likelihood that you make them. There are sixteen delicious points that can vault you to the top, putting distance between you and every other team in the league. Just ask the Montreal Canadiens.
In their first eight games, our beloved 2015-2016 Sabres have amassed a grand total of four meager points. Two against a team that fired its’ coach seven games into the season – Columbus, and two in a shootout against a team that features Brad Boyes as its top line center – Toronto. I’m not impressed.
I expect a lot more from the Sabres this year. Though the team is trending in the right direction in virtually every category compared to last year (goals for are up, goals allowed are down, shots taken are up, shots allowed are down, penalties taken are down, better power play, etc.), the results are pretty much the same. Corsi, PDO, whatever stat-of-the-day you keep, there’s really only one that will always matter and that’s in the win column.
Yes, it’s a small knock on this year’s team, but it’s also a glaring reminder just how insanely terrible and historically inept this team was last year.
The early season struggles are further evidence that building a winning team doesn’t happen overnight in this league. As quickly as the Avalanche rose two years ago, they fell just as fast last year. And in recent years, we’ve seen Stanley Cup winning teams miss the playoffs the following year. It’s hard to win. On most nights, there’s little margin for error.
Look, I’m not expecting miracles. But just because this year’s squad doesn’t carry the fragile, defeatist mentality like it did last year, doesn’t make me all warm and fuzzy. It’s not enough. Given Tim Murray’s off-season moves and recent draft picks, my expectations are higher. Shouldn’t they be?
There’s a lot of talk about giving them time to gel and developing the right chemistry, etc. I don’t buy most of it. To me, it sounds like an excuse. Yes, the roster was overhauled, but these guys are professionals making millions of dollars… they’ve practiced and played together for over a month. It’s time to see some results. So far this season, I just don’t. After getting drubbed by Montreal at home Friday, I was expecting them to destroy New Jersey on Saturday night. Instead, I’m pretty sure I saw Ville Leino and Andrej Meszaros playing in our 4-3 loss to New Jersey.
Save for their power play, this team plays like a loose collection of players constantly scrambling. Breaking out of our zone is guesswork, passing is terrible and finishing checks is a rarity. Dan Bylsma, owner of the best points percentage (.668) of any head coach in NHL history with at least three full seasons coached, has his work cut out for him. He had an impressive resume coming from Pittsburgh, but he also had a few guys named Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on his team. You’d have to be a terrible coach not to win with those future HOFers.
I haven’t given up on this team. Far from it. In fact, unlike last year, I feel like we’re actually capable of winning every game. The offense is certainly there. Unfortunately, that’s where it ends. The defense is sorely missing Bogosian’s presence on the blue line and I’m baffled why Mike Weber is still on this team.
Between the pipes, even with a healthy Lehner, we’re still in need of a dependable goalie. It hurts, especially when you consider what we gave up for him and the current save percentages of former Blue & Gold that could’ve been signed at the end of last year – Jhonas Enroth (.975), Anders Lindback (.953) and Michal Neuvirth (.947). Oh, in case you’re wondering, our team’s is .874, right near the league’s worst.
This team may very well rip off a ten game win streak, and I hope they do, but for now, I’ll be more than happy with .500 hockey. And that’s starting to feel like a very tall order.
Let’s go Buffalo!