Monday, February 4, 2013

"Lindy ain't goin' nowhere"

Sure enough, Mr. Pegula, and it would seem as if your team ain't either, unless you say so.

It was a nice thought there, Uncle Terry. But, that was nearly two years ago, and the honeymoon is pretty much over.

After two wins to start the 2013 season--one good one vs. Philly and a somewhat lucky one at Toronto--the bottom has fallen out. The Sabres are 1-5-1 since.

That's not good. And neither is the way they've been losing.

After a stellar effort to defeat Boston at TD Gardens this past Thursday, the Sabres came out flat in a clunker at Montreal (6-1) on Saturday and gave away a game that they were in control of yesterday vs. Florida (4-3.)

Take away the efforts of Thomas Vanek who leads the league in points (19) and assists (11,) his linemates Jason Pominville and Cody Hodgson, as well as goalie Ryan Miller, and you'd have a team that would be near the bottom of the league.

Head coach Lindy Ruff has a mess on his hands with his defense, he's gotten very little secondary scoring and the team is dead last on the dot with an historically low faceoff percentage (42.5%.)

Those are just the facts.

Strong emotional, psychological, and motivational undercurrents are pulling the team down and something needs to be done.

On the eve of this abbreviated season, GM Darcy Regier received a contract extension based upon his work since the team was bought by Pegula. His moves have been shrewd and it would seem as if he's doing what's asked of him.

Ruff, though, is a different story. He just can't seem to pull it all together.

There really aren't any excuses this season. His "system" is in disarray. The defense can't defend and looks like the Keystone Cops in front of Miller. Secondary scorers are missing opportunities. They can't finish a team off and continue to play not to lose instead of playing to win. And much of the team looks flat and unmotivated far too often.

To varying degrees, each of these monsters have individually reared their ugly heads over the past seven seasons and much of the time the team has been able to tread water. But this season, they've all come together and if this continues, the Sabres will be all but out of the playoffs by the end of the month

This convergence has got Ruff so out of sync that he's like a gambler who can't make the right bet, even if it's near 50/50. He'll keep betting black, hoping that it will come up soon, but the wheel keeps coming up red.

A good example would be his goalie "rotation."

Over the years, because of poor back-ups, Ruff has had to abandon a scheduled day off for Miller because the team needs two points. Miller starts and the team invariably drops the game. It happened in Florida yesterday. Because of slow starts to the season, like this one, the pressure has been on to get every point possible. Ruff buckle's, passes that pressure on to Miller and it will take some time for the team to recover.

Another well he keeps going to is his reliance on his "tried and true" players. Derek Roy, Paul Gaustad, Adam Mair; they were all Ruff favorites throughout the years and he relied on them time and again.The latest example,though, was how he played Jochen Hecht yesterday.

Hecht has always been a favorite of Ruff, but he's really no more than a fourth-liner, and except for maybe an odd shift here and there, he should never sniff the top-six, much less the top line. Over the years Hecht, like other Ruff favorites, have spent way too much time up where they don't belong.

And it came to a crescendo yesterday as Hecht garnered 19:35 of even strength ice-time. Vanek, who is averaging 2.38 points/game and was named the NHL's 3rd-star for the month of January, played 16:32 five-on-five.

That's inexcusable.

But it is a trend that dates to at least the 2011 playoffs vs. Philly. Vanek was 7th in even strength time on ice behind the aforementioed Roy and Gaustad, Tyler Ennis, Hecht, Rob Neidermayer and Drew Stafford. Total average ice-time for the series had Vanek behind Stafford, Roy, Gaustad, and Tim Connolly.

From everything I've read, Ruff's a good guy, but when decisions like this are being made, he's lost himself. If you've lost yourself, it's pretty hard to gain the trust of anyone you're coaching. And if there's no trust, you end up lame and 1-5-1 in your last seven games.

As much as we should respect Uncle Terry for what he's done so far, he also needs to make an incredibly tough decision.

His personal allegiance to his coach, a Sabre he's admired, is having a detrimental affect upon the team's play. If his coach can be detached and still keep his job, surely the players can do the same. And it would seem as if that mentality permeates the team right now.

That's cause for dismissal. And Pegula is the one that needs to do it.

It's been said many times that Regier will not fire his coach, but because Pegula unequivocally proclaimed "Lindy ain't goin' nowhere," he may get lucky and may not need to.

If that's the road the organization wants to go down, there's only one person that should hand Ruff the pink slip, and that's Terry Pegula.

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