Published by hockeybuzz.com, 11-9-2017
If anyone can figure out what the future holds for this edition of the Buffalo Sabres, God love ya. It's been rough and rocky travelling thus far with the gamut of emotions in Sabreland leaning heavily towards the negative side so far. Mostly we've been subject to an on-ice product leaving us somewhere between frustrated and disgusted. On the positive side, however, there have been signs of encouragement lately and even a strong feeling of enthusiasm after Tuesday's win over the Washington Capitals.
Yet guarded optimism is standard operating procedure for Buffalo s in situations like this. It's been a while since we've seen a corner long since turned with a team moving forward in overdrive. On many occasions in recent years, turning the corner usually didn't mean finally getting on the road to respectability and beyond, it usually involved a head-on collision with a steam roller.
Buffalo put together it's most complete game of the season in a winning effort on Tuesday night. Although the win didn't leave you with a transcendent feeling as if the team had finally turned the corner, there was a positive vibe running through the locker room afterwards as coach and players had uplifting post-game interviews.
The start to this season has been tough on the Sabres and new head coach Phil Housley, who had a quick honeymoon phase in Buffalo as the team started out 0-4-1 with two embarrassing back-to-back clunkers in the mix. It took a four-game West Coast swing and some refocusing to stop the downward spiral but things have been noticeably better since.
On-ice positives are becoming more prevalent and since that ominous start the Sabres are 5-4-1. Yet there were indications that they hadn't completely shaken their early-season struggles. Within those four recent losses were two more clunkers, the latter of which came on Saturday night at the hands of the Dallas Stars in the second game of a two-game road trip. It took Dallas just over 10 minutes to go up 3-0 en route to a 5-1 rout of Buffalo.
What can you say after a game like that?
Housley decided to remain positive saying that they got the start they wanted but were victims of bad bounces. Sounded like a cover-up tied together by excuses. "When I evaluate the game," said Housley after the game, "I think we played well. The score tells you differently and there's probably going to be a lot of people that disagree with me."
There was an uproar over that quote. A Sabres print beat reporter wrote after the Dallas loss, "The Sabres have a fragile psyche, so maybe the coach didn't want to pile on in public.
"But it sounded like the Sabres have lowered the bar, that a four-goal loss is an acceptable effort. The feel-good vibe won't play to a fan base that knows better and expects more."
Earlier this week on radio we heard, rightfully so, that the mistakes made on the goals against are not the mark of a game well-played.
And it continued on this week with another print beat reporter going back to that Dallas post-game quote after the Washington win, as he chose to revisit it and further condemn it. "That was one of the most egregious quotes I've heard from a Buffalo coach in a long time," he wrote. "An affront to a battered fanbase.
"There's a difference in being positive and being Pollyanna Phil."
In both instances when Housley said his team played well in the 5-1 loss, the qualifier, and what the reporter didn't mention, was that the coach mentioned twice that he thought the team "got the start they wanted." Which is actually true. The Sabres did play well out of the gate when it came to the mechanics of how Housley wanted to see them skate and move the puck. They had plenty of possession and zone-time but couldn't score and when the puck was turned against them, two bad bounces lead to the Stars' first two goals.
Lack of coverage also played a big part in those two goals as well as the third one Dallas scored but Housley chose to focus upon the positives he saw early in the game. He explained it this way on WGR550 yesterday when he said that he didn't think it was "time to get really negative on the players."
"They've been through a lot here," continued the coach. "I try to keep it positive, but don't mistake [my positivity from not] holding players accountable. I think accountability and negativity are two different things."
For one game, it worked as they turned around and beat Washington. According to reports Housley put his team through a rather rigorous practice session after the Dallas loss and they bought in to the point where they played a 60-minute game and came out on the winning side of it.
However, you're only as good as your next game played and the Sabres are lined up with a back-to-back beginning Friday at home vs. the Florida Panthers. After that they travel to Montreal on Saturday for the first of three games away from KeyBank Center.
Reports from the rink had Housley with a lighter practice yesterday and one today that had a lighthearted moment. There's also more optimism as some of the walking wounded are beginning to return to the lineup.
This is a Sabres team that seems to be trending upward and without going all Pollyanna Buzz on y'all, hopefully they can put those clunkers to rest. Where it all takes them is anybody's guess, but it's not a bad thing to savor a win and in doing so, move on from the disappointment, frustration and disgust of a prior game.
It's what helps keep us Buffalo fans somewhat sane.
Sanity can be a fleeting thing, however, especially with word today that top-pairing defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen has been downgraded as to week-to-week. Ristolainen suffered an upper-body injury in Arizona last week and won't be seeing the ice anytime soon.
On the bright side, two injured defensemen look real close to returning to game action. Nathan Beaulieu and Josh Gorges got a couple of practices in with Beaulieu being on the second powerplay unit at today's practice, an indication that he could very well be in the lineup tomorrow against the Panthers.
Gorges said he's ready but told WGR550 yesterday that it will be a coaching decision as to whether he gets in or not.
With Beaulieu and Gorges both seemingly ready to go, the Sabres sent defenseman Zach Bogosian back to Rochester.