Perhaps we should let Ryan Miller sum it up, "It was just a shitty way to lose."
NBC had the hockey world watching as it kicked off it's Hockey Day In America with the Pens visiting the Sabres. And you could hear a collective groan from Sabres fans nationwide as Pittsburgh jumped out to a blazing 2-0 lead less than a minute and a half into the game.
Nightmares of a December, 2011 8-3 loss to Pittsburgh were coming to the fore as boos were raining down on an embattled Sabres coach and team.
But, a funny thing happened on the way to total embarrassment.
Faced with a penalty to Captain Jason Pominville a mere two and a half minutes after Pittsburgh's second goal, the Buffalo PK unit buckled down and laid the foundation for a comeback.
Cody Hodgson then scored later the first, Thomas Vanek mid-way through the second, and Steve Ott early in the third put the Sabres up 3-2 with 15 minutes to go.
On a play reminiscent of a Derek Roy move, Pominville, a mere five feet from clearing the zone, got too cute and got pick pocketed when a simple chip-out was all that was needed. After a 10 second scramble in the Buffalo zone Pasqual Dupuis sent a cross-ice, one-timer past Miller to tie the score.
Ten minutes later--at the 17:56 mark of the third--Miller was screened by his own teammates as a Paul Martin shot from the point found the back of the net.
Miller played an outstanding game and was the sole reason this team not only was in it, but had a pristine opportunity to walk away with at least one point.
"Your guard has to be up at all times," he said, alluding to the Pominville play, "it's preventable and not what we need to be doing right now."
When asked which goal--Pittsburgh's game-tying or game winner--bothered him the most, Miller didn't hold back, "Well, just fucking losing at the end."
He continued, "It's 3-3, just get to overtime, it's 3-2 make 'em fuckin' come all the way down. [We] worked too hard [to have this happen.]"
Yeah, what he said.
Pominville has been pretty awful as of late.
Stat-geeks will look to his six-game scoreless drought and minus-2 rating during those games as proof. And those are pretty telling stats.
Watching the games, you can see why his stats are like that.
His decision-making with the puck is mostly wrong as his vision seems to be clouded. Clouded by God knows what, pressure? The pressure of losing as the team's gone 3-6 through the month of February?
He's really gripping the stick tight. He has one goal in February (one assist as well) and is just firing the puck everywhere. Yesterday, in a perfect example of his frustrations, he broke his stick on a 5-on-3 powerplay trying to channel Al Macinnis or Zdeno Chara.
And yesterday he gave up on the game-tying turnover. My God, son, you're the captain. Show some heart. You screwed up, make amends instead of relying on other people to cover.
And, Damn It! show some emotion.
Quit hiding behind a "calm, cool and collected" front. Your team is on a road to miss the playoffs for the second straight season, fourth out of the last six since you were dubbed a leader on the team.
How about following Millers lead?
Pominville, along with Vanek and maybe Drew Stafford, are what's left of Darcy Regier's core, the core of players that were to lead this team after the 2007 off-season. Jochen Hecht, although not one of the "Rochester guys" like those three, is "core-like."
The definition of "the core" for Buffalo fans is soft-but-skilled and wilting under pressure.
And the only way owner Terry Pegula will move this team forward is to continue removing players that are defined like that.
The team has already peeled away Derek Roy and Paul Gaustad. And it may be time for another one to exit.
The Colorado Avalanche are at an impasse with RFA center, Ryan O'Reilly.
Rumor has it that the 'Lanche are looking to move the 22 yr. old. The asking price? A roster player and a top prospect, according to TSN's Darren Dreger.
And, I like the way CBSSportsline's Adam Gretz is approaching the situation when he writes, "If you're the general manager of an NHL team that's in need of a young, two-way center and you're not doing everything in your power to land restricted free agent Ryan O'Reilly , you're simply not doing your job.
Buffalo's Pominville fits the bill for the "roster player" portion of the equation. He's also a winger, which is an area of need for the organization. And he's not chopped liver either.
He's about as consistent as they come. As poor as his play has been the last six game, he will bounce back and he will probably hit his .80 points/game career average. He will also be there on the penalty kill and the powerplay. In fact, Avs head coach could probably squeeze more production out of Pominville by putting him on the half-wall instead of the point on the power play.
Pominville should have a long, consistently productive career in the NHL with the style of hockey that he plays. He may even end up being a key contributor on a cup-winning team some day.
But Sabres fans really have seen enough of "the core" and "core-like" players. We know all about them having seen a team full of them for the last six seasons. And we also know where this will probably end up--missing the playoffs again.
If Pegula is intent upon changing the culture of the Buffalo Sabres, the dismantling of Regier's core should continue.
And if he and his GM are hell-bent upon sticking with their head coach, than a two-way center like O'Reilly should be vigorously pursued.
As for the "top-prospect" portion of the rumor, according to hockey's future the Avalanche are thin on the wing, just like the Sabres. So they'd probably be looking to bolster that area of the organization.
Surely a prospect like Joel Armia, would catch Colorado's eye. Kris Baker of sabresprospects.com has him rated as the #1 prospect in the system. But that may be asking too much.
Winger Corey Tropp, #7 according to Baker, is injured.
Looking to Rochester, perhaps Regier could convince Avalanche GM that center Luke Adam fits the bill.
Although not a "prospect" any more, Adam is still only 22 yrs. old. At 6'2", 205 lbs. he has NHL size and he is a former AHL Rookie of the Year.
As of right now Adam is parked behind centers Tyler Ennis, Cody Hodgson and rookie Mikhail Grigorenko on the top-nine depth-chart and the team would rather he get loads of ice-time in Rochester.
Regier really needs to get working on this, if the rumors are true. He just got an extension from Pegula largely based upon (it's assumed) the transactions he's made since Pegula took over nearly two years ago.
And he needs to continue re-tooling this team while saying goodbye to his "vaunted" core.
A week or so ago, I did a piece on four players who I felt should be sent to the minors--Jochen Hecht, Matt Ellis, Jhonas Enroth and Nathan Gerbe.
Since then, Ellis was waived and cleared. He's now with Rochester.
Enroth will continue to be nailed to the bench during this next stretch of games because there are reasonable breaks for Miller.
Hecht is still on the team. And he's still logging top-nine minutes as Grigorenko sits in the press box. Hecht really needs to go, in my opinion. He is a "core-like" player, first and foremost, but his game is fading fast.
Three years ago he was one of the Sabres' best two-way players, notching 21 goals and 21 assists. Since then he's been in serious decline.
He may never score a goal this year. He reminds me of Rob Neidermayer, without the ring, in the twilight of his career with the Sabres. He also has a knack for getting open, like former Sabre Mike Grier did. And, like Grier, he can't seem to finish.
Yet, he's still on the team. And probably worst of all, he's like an opiate for Lindy Ruff.
And then there's Gerbe.
Gerbe's played his best hockey of the season the last three games. He has assists in back-to-back games, is in the plus column (+1,) and Ruff is using him more--on the second PP unit as well as a bit on the PK. In fact the past four games his ice-time has nearly doubled.
Perhaps he was still recovering from back-surgery to start the year and he wasn't fully recovered earlier, but he looks like a different player out there. He's regained his "dog nipping at your ankle" attitude.
You can see that his timing is still off, but he's skating with a sense of purpose. He knows what to do, it's just a matter of what the opposition will allow and how he'll get it done.
Yesterday he streaked down the right wing and launched a perfect rebound-shot which went directly to Ott who was barrelling towards the net. Ott buried it and the Sabres went up by a goal.
Gerbe is the "ultimate underdog" and has more heart than all of "the core" combined. Perhaps we jumped the gun on wanting him waived a week ago.
A few other quick notes:
- Tyler Ennis has sick hands. What he does with the puck in tight quarters is amazing. At 23 he still has some growing to do, but right now he may have the best hands on the team.
- Cody Hodgson has incredible on-ice vision. He has a great set of hands and can skate real well too. At 22 he also has some work to do, but as an offensive package, he has the tools to be a top-line center in the NHL.
- Robyn Regehr may be playing the best hockey of his tenure in Buffalo over the past few games. Yeah, we know speed isn't a strength, but everything else seems to be in place--positioning, attitude, leadership--and it really seems to be helping Tyler Myers.
- Speaking of Myers. He's come back full-throttle after his two-game benching and looks to be just a notch below his Calder-winning rookie year. He's moving the puck up ice with authority, playing well in his own end and jumping into the play correctly. He still looks like a baby giraffe at times, but he seems to be on the upswing. And that's a good thing for the Sabres.
Is it too early in the shortened season to consider Tuesday's match-up versus Winnipeg as a must-win?
At 6-9-1 a third of the way into the season, the Sabres have dug themselves a hole once again. Which makes yesterday's loss to Pittsburgh--and zero points--even more bitter.