Like you, I’m a Sabres fan. So I want them to win. And I dream of the day the best trophy in all of professional sports is paraded down Delaware Avenue.
And like you, I know that’s not happening any time soon.
The 2015-16 edition of the Buffalo Sabres sit squarely in 27th place in the NHL, with a record of 20-26-4. They’re one measly point from the basement, sitting atop only Edmonton, Toronto and Columbus. All of which are tied for last place.
After monumental off-season changes, I was hoping things would turn around. And don’t get me wrong… they have in some respects.
We all knew it wouldn’t happen overnight. Playoffs? Nah. That was more in the three-to-four-year plan. But to be one point above the cellar of the league after more than half the season, a more than ample sample size? Could we really be headed for back-to-back-to-back last place finishes in the standings?
Improvement takes time. I get it. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Yada, yada, yada. But am I –or rather, are we– to cling to an improved Corsi rating? A team that supports one another? A moral victory? A team that competes most nights? A team that has more road wins than the last two years? The bottom line, at least statistically, is that this team is still losing. And even though 14 of them are by one goal, in my book, a loss is still a loss.
Even the Coyotes, who only earned 56 points last year, now sit with 53 points… with 33 games left in the season.
There’s no doubt this team is infinitely more watchable than years’ past. Risto, O’Reilly, Eichel and Kane… they’re way more entertaining and quite frankly, far more talented than Meszaros, Hodgson, Leino and Hecht. Compared to the last few years, fans actually use their tickets to go to games at First Niagara Center.
I was glad to see Bylsma frustrated after losing three straight last week. He should be ticked off. With 26 regulation losses this year, his Buffalo Sabres have already lost more times than all but one of his six years with the Penguins. Granted, this team is a far cry from the star-studded Crosby and Malkin led team Bylsma had in Pittsburgh.
“It’s difficult. There’s no question we want to win every game going in. I know we’re in a development process. We’re in the process with our team (developing) how we play, how we want to play, the level at which we want to play and compete at.” – Coach Dan Bylsma
This team shows glimmers of hope. They roared back to beat Boston in Boston. They beat a high-flying Washington Capitals squad. Both were energizing, fun wins. But they’re followed by far too many clunkers. Given so many new faces, their inconsistency is somewhat expected I suppose. Their recent win over Ottawa snapped a three-game losing streak, but before that they had won four of five. As has been the case all year, it’s been a game of two steps forward, three steps back.
“That consistency aspect of our game is something we want to get better at. We’ve put ourselves in situations to win games but it seems like we’re finding ways to lose. Obviously there’s some frustration in the room. We want to get over that hump to that next tier of competitive teams and be able to come away with points in these games.” –Jack Eichel.
We all knew there would be no magic switch to flip to become an instant contender this year. Look at the Blackhawks and the Penguins and how long it took them to be competitive. Escaping Darcy’s “suffering” mode is like trying to get out of quicksand.
Winning takes time and a lot of hard work… it’s a culture that requires the right mindset night-in and night-out. It’s a responsibility to make every shift count. To win every battle. De-facto team captain Ryan O’Reilly preaches and practices that philosophy.
In my heart, I know this team is on the upswing, but I have a hard time being happy or even content about how they’re playing and where they sit in the standings as we head into the All-Star break… a single point separating them from the basement of the league. Guess I’ll have to learn to be more patient.
Right now, the Sabres are on pace for a 72 point finish… which is an astounding 33% improvement over the 54 point finish from last year and 52 the year before. But is that acceptable? Is there such a thing as a quality loss? Are you satisfied with this team’s progress? I’m still scratching my head, wanting to feel good about Eichel and gang, but the harsh reality is… we’re closer to a lottery pick than we are within a sniff of the playoffs.