Saturday, November 19, 2016

"Snake-bitten and struggling to find a goal" Might be time to let it go.

Published by, 11-18-2016

Sometimes when life keeps hammering away at you, there comes a time when you just mentally throw your arms to the cosmos, to simply say, “OK. I’ve had enough.”  Everything you’ve tried to reverse a trend has gone for naught as if the forces of the universe are reminding you that they will decide when it's over, not you.
One would think the Buffalo Sabres are at that point. The title quote of this blog came from head coach Dan Bylsma as he talked to the gathered media post-game last night. Unlike the prior loss at St. Louis where Bylsma seemed as if he was saying his last goodbyes, last night the coach managed to gather himself after a 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning and he spoke in a manner that was reflective and matter of fact.
The opening question of the presser was directed towards the lack of offense as Buffalo has scored one goal or less in four of the last five games. Bylsma acknowledged a frustration-level that seems to be at an all-time high as the team is getting looks, even some gaping looks at wide open nets like Kyle Okposo last night, but they just can’t seem to find a goal.
“You certainly felt it in every chance that we had and every opportunity we had in the first two periods, “ he said, “the frustration building with getting looks, getting empty nets, getting golden opportunities. Kind of the feeling you’re snake-bitten you’re struggling to find a goal and even though you’re getting great opportunities, you’re not going to find it.”
Case in point.
Lightning goalie Ben Bishop gathers the puck behind his net and throws it to the slot where Okposo is right there waiting. He fires a quick, hard shot into a wide open 4’X6' net but Bishop uses all of his 6’7” length in a cross-crease dive for a highlight reel save that will go down as one of the best of the year.
That’s what this Sabres club is up against.
Compounding the problem for Buffalo is that fortuitous bounces seem to be landing on the sticks of the opposition with everyone of them seemingly ending up in the back of the Sabres net. Not all of the 12 goals scored against in the last three games have been that way, but when you’re struggling like the Sabres are, it feels that way. “It’s indicative of how it’s going for the opposition and indicative of how it’s going for us,” concluded Bylsma.
Yet as a team game, singular moments can work against you and make your task all the more difficult. There were a few in last night’s game, even one by the coach who had an overmatched fourth line on the ice with less than a minute to go in the second period and the Sabres down only 2-1. The Sabres haven’t scored more than two goals for nine consecutive games so a third goal is pretty much a death-knell. Sure enough, with :17 seconds left, Tampa scored and a smattering of boos came out at KeyBank Center.
“We score a big powerplay goal (to make the score 2-1) and then we give one up with :17 seconds,” said forward Evander Kane post-game. “That’s something that losing teams do and right now that’s what we are."
Sure enough, at 0-4-2 in their last six games the Sabres season is slowly slipping away. Kane himself was guilty of trying to do a little too much as he and forward Brian Gionta decided to go 2-on-3 while on the penalty kill. Kane’s ill-advised pass to Gionta was didn't make it through and the Lightning stormed up-ice with a 4-on-2. Bam! In goes the puck and the Sabres are down 2-0.
It seems as if every Sabres player is struggling at the same time, and the ones who aren’t fighting it can’t seem to buy a goal. There’s really not much you can do except continue working and playing your game and, as professional athletes, believe in yourself and your teammates.

“When things are going like that,” said Okposo, “you gotta believe. We’ve got to show some mettle, some mental toughness; come back tomorrow and go to work.”
This winless stretch featuring minimal goal-scoring might have reached beyond mental toughness and into the realm of mental capitulation.

Often times in pro sports we here of an athlete "fighting it"--clutching the hockey stick or the baseball bat too hard, receivers fighting the football giving them hands of stone, etc.--the more they fight the worse it gets and the longer it goes the deeper the frustrations. It's been said that 90% of the pro game is mental and it would seem as if the hardest part is allowing oneself to believe in ones abilities whilst struggling. Professional athletes are at the top level for a reason and that fact gets lost.
Swimmers know that when you’re in an undertow the only way to survive is to let it take you where it may because eventually the forces will release you and you’ll rise to the surface. It’s human nature to do everything in your power to fight when in the throes of a situation like that, but survival-mode will kill you.

Let it go.


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