It's been said that you can tell what type of team you have at the end of November and for the 2017-18 edition of the Buffalo Sabres, it wasn't a very good one.
The Sabres finished the month of November having won only once in 10 games (1-7-2) while being outscored 31-17 in the process and ended a 3-8-2 month by being shut out in back-to-back contests (at MTL, vs. TBL.)
Rookie head coach Phil Housley had a boatload of troubles on his hands, much of it because of the limited talent he had to work. However, some of his troubles, most notably an inept powerplay, were products of own his design. Housley had a quick honeymoon due to an 0-4-1 start to the season and his Sabres began to get their footing by finishing October with a respectable 3-3-1 record. They would start November with a 2-1-0 record before things fell apart.
Injuries played their part in their demise, especially on defense. Zach Bogosian hadn't dressed all season and some of their reserves ended up on the injured list in November as well. It's best to remember that the defense wasn't spectacular to begin with and the reserve d-men and callups used to fill holes left much to be desired.
To make matters worse, Rasmus Ristolainen, the league-leader in minutes played, went down as well. During Ristolainen's injury the Sabres went 1-5-2 and were outscored 26-17 margin. At one point the Sabres defense consisted of Marco Scandella/Justin Falk, Jake McCabe/Nathan Beaulieu, Josh Gorges/Victor Antipin, not exactly the defense Housley worked with in Nashville.
The Sabres desperately needed help in the form of an influx of talent but most of the talent remained in Rochester and GM Jason Botterill opted to stand pat with what he had outside of the trade for bottom-six forward Scott Wilson. It was a disaster and all the losing started to creep into the psyche of his players.
Depth forward Jordan Nolan had won two Stanley Cups as a role player for the Los Angeles Kings and just came to Buffalo as a waiver-claim in September. He'd gone from a winning organization to a losing one and when the his team lost it's fourth game in a row he stated post-game, "I think we've got to start holding guys accountable. Start being honest with ourselves and our teammates.
"When we're turning pucks over and not working hard, it kinda (gets) swept under the rug and we've got to, if someone does turn it over, if they don't chip it in at the red line or blue line, we've got to say something."
A losing mentality and poor effort is a bad sign and it showed in their record. No body on the team was stepping up. In fact Housley put Eichel on the third line at practice after a poor performance in 3-1 loss against Carolina that saw him extend a shift and lollygag on the ensuing backcheck leading to a Hurricanes goal.
This is the same Jack Eichel that was wearing an 'A' on his sweater and had just signed an 8yr/$80million contract extension in the off season.
For his part, Housley acted like a nurturing Mom when the team seemingly could have used a kick in the ass. After getting totally manhandled by the Dallas Stars 5-1 early in the month, Housley said of his team, "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 plenty of vociferous disagreement with that assessment. Housley was grasping for straws on this one and it sent the local media into a frenzy with one member calling out the Sabres for "having a fragile psyche" writing that "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."
Another media member was even more blunt. "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."
Housley said on his weekly radio appearance, he didn't think it was "time to get really negative on the players" after the game and explained his remarks this way, "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."
That may be the case, but Housley's team fell apart the rest of the month and looked horrible in the process. At the end of November the answer to what kind of team the Buffalo Sabres were looked rather easy--a last place team.
For Buffalo's 2017-18 team stats for November click here and for their individual November stats click here.
For my November archive click here.