"It's not about talent, it's about playing a certain way right now."
So said Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers after yesterday's 4-0 loss to the NY Islanders which dropped Buffalo right to the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
That loss was their second under interim coach Ron Rolston, fourth in a row and sixth in their last seven games. For the month of February they are 3-9.
The boo-birds were out in full force last night at the F'N Center and many started leaving with about 15 minutes left in the 3rd period after John Tavares put the Isles up 3-0.
Fans actually could have started exiting after Mark Streit and Michael Grabner scored goals 65 seconds apart late in the second period.
The Sabres are playing like crap right now, and what's truly amazing about this team is how they crumble at the first sign of adversity.
They nearly weathered another suspect second period last night--that 20-minute time frame which has been downfall of this team all season. Yes, one should question, or stare in disbelief, as to how Isles winger Matt Moulson could thread a cross-ice pass through four Buffalo defenders to a streaking Streit for a tap-in. But more than that, you need to question why veteran Sabres defenseman Christian Ehrhoff would attempt a cross-ice pass at the NY blueline a minute later.
Grabner, who is noted for anticipating that kind of stupidity, turned it into a breakaway. Not only did he put the puck past Ryan Miller, but Ehrhoff's stick also went, as the defenseman attempted a limp-wristed stick check.
Miller, who has been outstanding in the last six games, looked as if he just said "Screw it" on the play. He has turned aside countless shots on odd-man rushes and defensive giveaways with the opponents looking at a gaping wide net. Miller had, and has had for years, a birds eye view of a turnover heading back his way. Most of the time he comes up with the save.
The Sabres netminder has clearly been frustrated this year, and when it was mentioned by Bill Hoppe of the Olean Times that his teammates seem to be frustrated as well, Miller chirped, "Well, it's about God Damn time."
Keep it simple, stupid.
"I keep saying it, but it's a little thing, it's so big," said Myers postgame, "make simple plays throughout an entire game."
This team, especially in front of a home crowd, tends to get too fancy. They try to put on a show when their talent-level doesn't allow for that level of fanciness. The result is usually a turnover that often finds the back of the Sabres net.
Ehrhoff should have known better. He is a veteran on this team. He should know his opponent, know who's on the ice and know what they like to do. He should also know that it's Hockey 101: don't make a cross ice pass like that with three defenders pressing, dumb-ass.
"We're a good team with a lot of stupid mistakes right now," said Sabres forward Steve Ott. "And it sucks."
Sure does, Steve. Is it correctable?
"We're on the bottom on the ground right now," he continued, "we're kicked in. But it's the guys that rise, the character that has to continue to show and that's when the team can start getting out of this hole."
Agreed. But who on this team is willing to say, "Me. I'll take it?"
Where are the "character" guys? Is it within the leadership group?
Alternate captain Thomas Vanek was there post game. He missed another golden opportunity and was robbed by Evgeni Nabokov as well. "I'm a goal scorer that's not scoring goals right now," said Vanek.
Miller was there post game. "Not a very strong performance overall," he said matter of factly, "Nothin' else, man." His interview was short. "I had an opportunity to at least keep it to a one goal game, and [I] didn't step up and take it," he added.
Captain Jason Pominville....
was no where to be found. Perhaps he was off somewhere looking for Roysie's blankie. Pominville has 2 goals, 2 assists and is a minus-3 during the 12 games of February. His play is languishing.
The other alternate captain, Drew Stafford, was no where to be found as well. Just like his offense. He has one goal this season.
Those three with the letters on their sweater are the remnants of GM Darcy Regier's "vaunted" core of skaters. Those three were chosen as leaders last season along with other "core" members Derek "Roysie" Roy and Paul Gaustad who were traded last year. Last season the team missed he playoffs and it seems as if this team will miss the playoffs this year as well.
Is it a leadership void or issue in the locker room, Mr. Ott?
"No, I think this leadership group is solid," he said post game. "It's definitely not a leadership or accountability aspect."
Just go ask them. Oh, that's right. Where's Pominville? Where's Stafford?
God love him. Ott is there after every game talking to the media and for him the glass is always half-full. Had he been around Buffalo as long as Ryan Miller, though, methinks he'd be throwing around some unprintable words.
The proof is in the pudding with this leadership group. There is no leadership. No character. No passion. No intestinal fortitude.
"It's almost like 'Here we go again,'" said Myers.
Only it's worse.
Buffalo having a glass jaw is nothing new. But there was a time when only a few teams could put them on the ropes via one mistake. Now, it's pretty much every team in the league.
This team is pretty bad right now, so bad that Jessica Pegula, daughter of Sabres owner Terry Pegula, was said to have tweeted (and quickly rescinded,) "Lets just call a spade a spade. The Sabres are really bad... #makesmemad".
A spade is a spade. The core is the core. The home crowd is still booing. And the Sabres record is a clear indicator of how good this team is right now.
Will Rolston be able to fix this team?
I like how WGR's Paul Hamilton put it, "When you watch this team, they are who they are, and I’m not sure what Ron Rolston or any other coach can do about it." he wrote. "It’s a soft, mentally weak group and always has been. If Rolston can get that trait out of them, he should win the Jack Adams Trophy."
Rolston has been in the pro ranks for all of a year and a half. He went from teaching teenagers to dealing with pros in Rochester to dealing with well-to-do pros in Buffalo. That may be more of a jump than rookie Mikhail Grigorenko going from junior to the pros.
It's to the point now where Rolston may just be an evaluator and if they continue their descent into "Hockey Hell," that's all he should be doing, eventually giving player evaluation to his superiors so that they can decide which players they want moving forward.
There's no reason to believe that this team can make it out of the basement, no matter how much they try to simplify and avoid mistakes.
Not with remnants of "the core" in leadership positions.
This may be one of the worst seasons since 2002/03 when Regier finished the dismantling of "the hardest working team in hockey" on his way to building "a team built for the new NHL."
That was a bad year. And this one may be even worse.
This team is unwatchable right now, the losses keep piling up and the Sabres are looking at a draft pick that might be higher than Vanek at #5-overall.
But, as my friend Cisco put it, "If you're going to shit the bed, at least do it in the shortest ever season."