Sunday, April 7, 2019

Mutual Appreciation Society (and win) brings good vibes to KeyBank Center, but...

Published by, 4-5-2019

For Buffalo Sabres fans who emotionally detached themselves from the team during a precipitous drop the last four months, last night's final game at KeyBank Center was a feel-good opportunity and their team delivered. While the diehards took in Game-41 of their Sabres home schedule pounding down (relatively) cheap grub, playing with their Jack Eichel bobblehead and/or hoping to get in on one of the many prizes being given away, the players were busy delivering a 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators. They appreciated the win and the Sabres on the ice appreciated the support.

Which is rather fitting because, after all, it was Fan Appreciation Night in Buffalo and an announced crowd of 17,998 cheered their team on while the Sabres reciprocated with a fun-filled win. The five goals scored by Buffalo came from five different players in five different ways:

--first-year North American pro (because he's not considered a rookie) Victor Olofsson used a one-timer on a feed from Rasmus Ristolainen to blast one in for the first goal.
--Kyle Okposo was in the right place at the right time while driving to the net to pot a carom off of a Sens player
--Eichel put on a dizzying display of puck-control before sending a tape-to-tape, no-look backhand pass from behind the net to Sam Reinhart who was all alone in the slot
--Captain Jack got in on the scoring himself when he circled from around the net to bury a rebound left in the crease
--and finally, Jason Pominville sent a harmless-looking shot on goal from along the half-wall that deflected off of an Ottawa defender and into the net.

It was fitting that Pominville scored on what could be his final home game in a Buffalo Sabres uniform. The 36 yr. old winger came up through the ranks after being taken 55th-overall by Buffalo in the 2001 NHL Draft. His career included being waived by the Sabres in '05/'06 but going unclaimed and eventually playing a total of 732 games for the Blue and Gold. He amassed 520 points (217+303) for his Sabres career and scored one of the most memorable goals in franchise history with his series-clinching, short-handed overtime-winner against the Senators in the 2006 playoffs. It was the only time in NHL history that a playoff series ended like that.

Pominville has always been a fan favorite and if that was his last game at home, he made yet another memory for himself and the fans. During the commercial break following his goal, his team mates had him take a spin at center ice to a standing ovation in a very fitting moment.

Last night was a feel-good story all around and it was good to see smiles the joys of scoring and winning with the roar of the crowd standing and cheering in the background.

Even with the happiness bouncing around KeyBank for last night's home-finale, there's still a pall cast over the Sabres after what's turned out to be a very disappointing season. The trials and tribulations of the 2018-19 season has been well documented by the media and thoroughly ripped into, and ripped apart by, social media. A four-win January followed by a four-win February topped off by a two-win month of March will do that to the collective psyche in Sabreland and that the negativity was on the mind of Eichel after the game last night.

"I think you guys tend to look at a lot of the negative frequently," he told the gathered media, before pointing it back at himself, "myself probably included, during some of the interviews we've had in the past month or so. But if you look at our season there's been, there's a lot we need to get better at...there have been a lot of exciting nights in this rink this year, probably a lot more than there was a year ago, if you can look at a couple of positives, that's probably one of them."

True enough. With their 21st win at home the Sabres tied for the most wins on home ice since 2009-10 and if fans can remember, November featured a perfect 6-0-0 record with a couple of blowouts (9-2 vs. Ottawa and 5-2 against Philadelphia) and some tight, well played games where they came out on top to the roar of an electrified KeyBank crowd.

Despite that and the feel-good story from last night, no one should forget how awful things have gone since their 10-game winning streak in November and the blame permeates the entire organization. Fans get that the team wasn't as good as their 10-game winning streak made them out to be and they know that there's a lot of work to be done with every facet of the roster.

However, what was hard to stomach for this particular blogger was an owner/team president in Kim Pegula talking about how much fun it was running two professional sports teams while her Sabres were in the midst of one of the biggest collapses in NHL history. Nor was it calming to here owner Terry Pegula, who bought the team in 2011 saying that he doesn't think they need a hockey-layer between him and his wife and the general manager because is GM "the only three-time, gold-medal, world junior guy in the world" and that he, an owner who made his billions in the energy business, "communicates with [Jason Botterill] regularly, daily, sometimes three times a day."

The Sabres sit 28th in the league right now after being at the top on November 27th. The coach is on the hot seat the players had a rough season and GM Jason Botterill has his ass on the line as well. Last night inside KeyBank Center was a reminder of how fun winning can be but its shouldn't make anyone forget what transpired the four prior months. After all the Sabres franchise-long eight-year playoff drought is now own the longest in the NHL after the Carolina Hurricanes clinched a spot last night. All of those seasons have come with Pegula as owner.

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