Friday, April 7, 2017

All the right words

Published by, 4-6-2017

The Buffalo Sabres won last night, which is good unless you'd like for them to lose which would mean a move them up the draft board, at least until the lottery. After beating a Montreal Canadiens team that was more interested in staying healthy than it was in winning the game, the Sabres now find themselves with a 33-35-12 record and with two more wins they'll eclipse last season's 81-point effort by one.


"It's another failed season in my mind," said Jack Eichel to the post-game media last night.

Be it known that Eichel is having a strong season despite missing the first 21 games with a high-ankle sprain. The sophomore phenom has 24 goals and 33 assists in 59 games for Buffalo and his 57 points leads the team. Eichel's 0.97 points/game is far and above the 0.69 mark he sported as a rookie last season and is top-10 amongst players playing 55 games or more.

But Eichel, like most if not all of his Sabres' teammates, were plagued by inconsistencies this season. Top-six forwards like Evander Kane, Sam Reinhart and Ryan O'Reilly are all where they should be amongst the top producers on the team but their point-totals belie a truth that sabotaged their season--when the team needed a win, they whiffed and were left to lament about it as they begin to make their tee times.

Whether the failures of this season lie with GM Tim Murray for his team-construct, or coach Dan Bylsma for his system or, like O'Reilly said yesterday, it's with the players, the Sabres hit a road block this season. Even with all the injuries to key players they had early in the season, Buffalo was in the playoff mix up until late February when a post bye-week 2-7-2 swoon effectively ended their season. Since then they've been playing out the string with a mix of wins and losses to go along with all the right words after solid efforts and pathetic ones alike.

Last night was Fan Appreciation Night for Sabres fans, which was to be a celebration of fans and team. The players did their fans a solid by beating Montreal in the final game of the season at KeyBank Center, and they gave the jerseys off of their backs post-game to lucky season ticket holders, but in all the night seemed to lack authenticity.

For many Sabres fans, the prior game against a Toronto Maple Leafs team that was visiting whilst in the throes of a playoff race was a truly meaningful game and most if not all Sabres fans would have appreciated an effort that reached above pathetic, especially in the first five minutes. That 4-2 loss, complete with Nazem Kadri calling Rasmus Ristolainen, and by extension the whole Sabres team, "effin' wussies" while Leafs fans celebrated at KeyBank Center, defined just how appreciative this group of Sabres was in regards to the Buffalo fans and the game they're lucky enough to play for a living.

"It's a shame we didn't put the effort forward tonight," Reinhart said to the media afterwards. No, Sam, get it right. That effort was shameful.

I have no problem with Eichel, especially how he approaches the game and with how he genuinely hates to lose. On Tuesday he spoke with the media about how the fans are "pretty loyal to us" and how the fans filled KeyBank Center whether they're playing good or bad hockey. Eichel talked about a "mediocre two years" and how, he said, "it’s a bit disappointing, a bit embarrassing for us as players that we can’t be better for them."

Yeah, well, show it on the ice.

Prior to last night's game O'Reilly took questions from the gathered media and he bemoaned this edition of the Sabres. "We're not a very good hockey team. We've let a lot of things go that we normally shouldn't," he said pregame.

"It's so frustrating coming to the rink right now. Practicing. There's no purpose to it," he added. "I'm sick of losing. It's getting exhausting and it's not fun. It sucks the fun out of the game."

Well, guess what, there Ryan, at least your not shelling out your money to see the embarrassment Sabres fans have witnessed at times this season, most notably the last Toronto game. By many accounts O'Reilly may have had his worst game as a Sabre in that one.

Of course from now until training camp when the Buffalo's flag of hope will once again be hoisted up the flag pole of a new season, we'll hear players lamenting the what-could-have-beens and about how they need to be better. O'Reilly, as always, directed his dismay with a lost season inward. "I really didn't step up and hold guys accountable and be a voice, and it's tough," he said of being one of the leaders on the team. "I think at times I didn't say enough, and at times I maybe said too much."

Eichel would chime in on the leadership question as well. "As much as I'm a young guy, I've got to take on more responsibility, be more of a leader on this team," he said. "I've got to expect more out of myself."

Reinhart waxed philosophical after the Toronto debacle saying "It's frustrating from our standpoint because it's not just going to change overnight and it's not just going to change over a summer. We have to find a way to get better on a nightly basis, all of us."

"We have to find a way to be better."

Sounds like all the right words to me.

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