Published by hockeybuzz.com, 4-5-2017
It seems like a long time ago, yet the season went by so fast. Back on October 13 with the NHL starting it's season a bit late to accommodate the World Cup of Hockey, the Buffalo Sabres opened up their season at home against the Montreal Canadiens, the team they'll be playing tonight as they close out the home portion of their 2016-17 schedule.
Right from the get-go there was a cloud hanging over the team. Buffalo's Jack Eichel suffered a high-ankle sprain at practice the day before and would not end up making his season debut until November 29. Prior to that newly acquired defenseman Dmitry Kulikov missed most of his first Sabres camp while competing in the WCoH and ended up getting checked into an open bench door in his first preseason game. Kulikov missed the opener vs. Montreal and would struggle mightily most of the season as he tried in vain to play through it.
Free agent signee Kyle Okposo also missed the opener after taking a puck to the knee in practice and you can add Ryan O'Reilly into the mix of injured. O'Reilly was suffering from back spasms after playing for Canada's WCoH team and it was a lingering problem that dogged him through the first half of he season until an emergency appendectomy on Christmas Day forced him to the sidelines for a full week of recovery time.
That's how things started out for Buffalo this season and even with Vezina Trophy winner Carey Price out for the opener, Montreal stifled the Sabres and walked out of KeyBank Center with a 4-1 win. To add insult to the already debilitating rash of injuries, LW Evander Kane crashed hard into the boards late in the second period and was lost for the next 11 games. It would take him an additional 10 more games to fully recover from the four broke ribs he suffered against Les Habitants.
So it went and so it goes.
It's been a season of ups and downs, mostly downs, but at least the Sabres have been able to give their hometown fans a little more bang for their buck as opposed to previous seasons. At one point a few years back they were abysmal at home going 27-43-12 during the two tank years spanning 2013-15 but they began to turn it around last season with a 16-19-6 record at home. This year they'll head into tonight's KeyBank finale with a 19-15-6 record which marks another year of progression. Of note, the Sabres haven't had a winning record at home since they finished 21-12-8 in 2011-12, the first full season under the ownership of Terry Pegula.
There was a lot of talk yesterday concerning the fans and how the players are embarrassed at some of the performances they've had in front of the home crowd. This of course was on the heels of their most abysmal performance since the tank years, a 4-2 loss vs. the rival Toronto Maple Leafs.
Eichel talked to the gathered media yesterday about the fans and how they were "pretty loyal to us, obviously. If we don’t play well, they’re here. Play good, they’re here. Play bad, they’re here.
“It’s been a mediocre two years,” he continued. “More than anything, it’s a bit disappointing, a bit embarrassing for us as players that we can’t be better for them. You want to please the fans because of all they’ve been through and all they continue to put up with. You just want to be better.”
Don't we know it.
But with all due respect, and most like I have the utmost respect for Eichel, it's all just talk.
The crap-show they put on display vs. Toronto Monday night is inexcusable and couldn't have been more embarrassing to the players, coaches, management, owner, fans and Western New York itself as they laid an egg of monstrous proportions. The players didn't show up, as has happened many this season, and some trash-talking by an emerging thorn in the Sabres side, Nazem Kadri, pretty much summed up just what kind of team showed up for Buffalo that night.
After scoring Toronto's fourth goal to effectively put the game away Kadri took his mouthpiece out and called out Ristolainen for being an effin' wussy, albeit in a more colorful fashion. It was a slap in the face to not only Ristolainen but to the entire team as a rollicking KeyBank Center with the throngs of Leafs fans roared their approval. Kadri was right in one respect, nearly every time the Sabres played a game with significant meaning this season, they failed, and on more than one occasion failed miserably.
In the eyes of many a Sabres fan, that game against Toronto was one that had a helluva lot more meaning that tonight's game. Sure remorse is one thing, but I can't help but think of a Sabres fan watching this live and in person while being subjected to a hearty Leafs celebration breaking out all around them.
That was the one to win, not this one.
However, it is Fan Appreciation Day and players will give the uniforms off their backs to lucky season ticket holders after the game and we begin the cycle again.
I hope the schedule-maker has Toronto, instead of Montreal, as the bookends to next season.