Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com
For any newbies who are just beginning to watch the Buffalo Sabres with interest, you should be happy with the fact that you didn't have to sit through the post Chris Drury/Daniel Briere years. From the 2007-08 through the 2012-13 season Buffalo was a middling team with a plenty of talent that always seemed to leave you wanting more.
Last night I saw that in the Minnesota Wild.
This is not a shot at certain Wild players like Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu or Zach Parise, all of whom are top-notch NHL'ers. Nor is it a shot at the Wild organization who've drafted future studs like Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund, augmented the roster with some quality vets and brought in a real good coaching staff lead by head coach Mike Yeo.
Unlike the post-Drury/Briere Sabres, the group of players they've assembled in St. Paul has reached the playoffs the last three seasons. Unfortunately Minnesota has had to face the juggernaut that is the Chicago Blackhawks early on in the playoffs all three times. The Wild lost to the Hawks in the first round of the 2013 playoffs, then in the second round in 2014 and 2015. Chicago won the Cup in 2013 and 2015.
But watching last night's game seemed eerily familiar to this Sabres fan.
The following was some of what was written by Chad Graff after the Wild lost to what he described as a "still rebuilding Buffalo Sabres team" last night. Feel free to fill in the blanks with names from the core-era Buffalo Sabres:
Tuesday's game was supposed to be a chance for the ______ to put their struggles on home ice behind them...Instead, they delivered another dud, their fifth loss in the past seven games at [home].
"That's unacceptable," _______ said of his team's 3-0 deficit after the first period. "It's quite embarrassing."
"I don't know what it is," ________ said, [when] asked for an explanation.
"This has been going on for a while," the head coach _______ said. "I can't count how many 2-on-1s we've had where we don't get a shot on goal, let alone a scoring chance. This is something we're going to have to change. We've got skill, but we have to create with our work ethic and other ways as well."
The work ethic was perhaps the most apparent aspect missing from their game during Tuesday's first period.
They trailed 1-0 midway through the period, then surrendered two goals within 20 seconds with less than three minutes remaining in it...it was the ugly first period that cost them. They were booed off the ice after the first 20 minutes, leaving many fans wondering what had happened. For a third straight home game, the _______ surrendered the first goal, raising questions of whether they're approaching games properly.
Last night's win was a good one for Buffalo. The Sabres got what head coach Dan Bylsma wanted from this three-game Midwest road-trip--two wins--and one would think that Bylsma had the Winnipeg and Minnesota games as the ones he was looking to place in the win column.
They started the trip facing the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks in the Windy City. If that wasn't bad enough the Hawks were on a six-game winning streak while the Sabres were on a six-game losing streak plus, Buffalo hadn't won in Chicago since January 10, 2007. That streak would continue as the Sabres dropped a hard-fought 3-1 decision that wasn't decided until Chicago's Phillip Danault scored his first-ever NHL goal with 4:59 left to break a 1-1 tie.
The Sabres have been playing a lot of games this season where they play hard, get the shots and get the goaltending, but just couldn't break through and wound up losing a close contest. That changed in Winnipeg and Minnesota as Buffalo got the jump and left the first period with the lead in both games. In both instances a nice first goal by Buffalo was followed by a luckier second goal. That jump in the first period would help them immensely the rest of the way as it quieted the home crowd.
In contrast to the enthusiasm of Winnipeg's MTS Center with a crowd that had ex-Jet Evander Kane to jeer at all game, Minnesota's Xcel Energy Center seemed anything but energetic outside of the two goals scored by the Wild and the vocalized consternation at the end of the first period. It was deafly quiet at times and for very long stretches if you closed your eyes, you'd have thought it was a practice.
That in essence was the home legacy of Regier's "core" in front of the home crowd. Fans could tell almost from the get-go what was about to transpire and they'd sit there hoping for something good to happen only to be teased and let down at the end.
Regardless of the Wild and their troubles at home, last night was good for this young Buffalo Sabres team.
Props to Linus Ullmark who earned a second straight start after his win in Winnipeg, and for the second game in a row was named the game's third star. Odds are that he'll be headed to Rochester tomorrow to further his pro career as designated starter Robin Lehner will probably be finishing his conditioning stint with the Amerks with a start tonight. But the 22 yr. old has really started to play well.
Also, good for captain Brian Gionta who seems to have found a home on the third line with Johan Larsson and Marcus Foligno. Gionta has a goal and two assists in his last two games while Foligno has a goal and an assist as well. And both players scored the game-winners for Buffalo.
And, finally, good for Sabres fans. Ownership decided upon a new direction and gutted Regier's core. After two seasons in last place and a difficult period of adjustment during the first half of this season, the Sabres are beginning to turn the corner. However, they still have a hurdle to overcome.
As good as this young team has been on the road (9-9-2,) right now Buffalo has the third-worst home record in the league at 8-13-2 and at times there are long stretches during a game where it's pretty quiet at First Niagara Center. Same as it was few years ago, albeit the root of their home-woes doesn't seem to be the same.
WGR's Paul Hamilton had this to say about Buffalo's trouble at the F'N Center while talking on GR's post-game show last night. "I don't know if they get uptight at home...I don't know if it's 'putting on a show' because I don't really see them making fancy plays or anything like that. Some other teams I've seen here," said Hamilton referring to the core, "would get fancy and try to put on a show.
"I don't know if [this team] just gets uptight in front of the home fans saying they really want to play well for them and [then] they don't do as well. They have to find a solution at home if they want to be a good team."
I'm with Hamilton in that I don't see this incarnation of the Sabres as being the same as the core years, present record excepted. There's a different feel to this team. Unlike the core, effort has been their foundation and they have enough top-end skill (although very young at this point) to skate with anybody. The combination has kept them in almost every game at the very least and a little luck may have changed the course of the game, like it did in these last two. A real stiff test awaits their arrival back in Buffalo as they face the Boston Bruins on Friday and follow that up with the second game of a back-to-back against the league-leading Washington Capitals.
If luck, like someone once said, is a by-product of hard work, the Sabres will really need to work their tails off these next two games. I get the feeling they're all-in on that concept, and unlike those core-years, may even get a bounce or two to help them pull off a win.