End Game

By Chris

goal

Too little, too late. That’s been the story of the 2008-09 Buffalo Sabres and Saturday night’s loss to the New York Rangers was no different.

Toni Lydman knocked in a pass from Thomas Vanek with 1:13 to go in the third period to cut the Rangers lead down to one, but there wasn’t enough time left for the Sabres to do much else about it.

The team is talented. There’s no questioning that. The problem is that they’re not tough enough, mentally or physically to overcome any of the problems on the ice. Tonight epitomized how weak this team really is.

The fourth line of Gaustad-Kaleta-MacArthur should not be giving your team its best offensive chances in a game against a team you’re chasing in the standings. It’s great to see those guys contribute, but where was Connolly, Hecht, Stafford? Even Vanek disappeared for awhile.

Congratulations, they hit two posts in the first period. Those don’t result in goals.

What do result in goals are terrible odd-man rushes. It happened to Spacek twice tonight. The first resulted in a penalty shot that Lalime made a nice blocker save on and the second resulted in a Callahan goal.

The Sabres needed a goaltender, a defenseman and a gritty forward who can score at the trade deadline. They got Tellqvist, but they stuck with their defensive corps and chose to add the Canadian Jochen Hecht.

I’m still trying to figure out how this team is better with Dominic Moore on it rather than Ales Kotalik. Moore is another defensive-minded forward who doesn’t have much offensive prowess. He played well tonight but he doesn’t seem to have that extra gear that a team trying to get into the playoffs needs.

Kotalik didn’t really have that gear either, but he was what he was. You knew he was good for at least 20 goals a year and for a team that’s struggled with its secondary scoring, he filled a need. He also did a better job of getting shots through on the powerplay than Pominville does.

Watch Moore get knocked down in the corner late in the second period tonight.

What does he do? Nothing. He stays seated on the ice. Literally. He’s sitting down like he’s at a picnic.

What do his teammates do? Nothing. Roy skates around like a fairy but there’s no pushing, no shoving. No touching.

The Sabres literally look like a bunch of Buster Bluths out there.

It was nice to see Gaustad, Kaleta and Rivet get angry. But no one else on this team does.

Vanek just lets Avery tug at his facemask? What is that? Where’s the passion and pride? Who lets a pest like Avery come up to them and grab their helmet like a linebacker trying to make an illegal tackle? It’s disgusting to watch teams walk all over Buffalo.

Avery chipped and chirped all game. And with the exceptions of Kaleta, Gaustad and Rivet taking a shot back at him every so often, Avery had his way with this team. The officials are partly to blame for letting the antics go on, but no one on the Sabres was really able to get back at him. Maybe you say, good for the Sabres, that they don’t stoop down to Avery’s level. Kaleta got one solid body check in, but once Avery had the crowd on his side the Sabres decided to do nothing about it.

If they’re going to take penalties, let them be penalites where they’re sticking up for their teammates and showing some passion. Instead we see slashing penalties and center ice and too many men on the ice. Dumb penalties. And that speaks to this team’s mental toughness and direction.

Look at who wears letters on this team. Rivet, who, when healthy, isn’t afraid to get into scraps. Hecht and Pominville, who I’ll lump together here since they’ve each been nothing short of embarrassing this season. Spacek, who’s been OK and likes to hit, but hasn’t really stepped up enough. And Numminen whose been calm and cool his entire career. How often do any of those guys really get mad on the ice? This team doesn’t have enough edge to make it dangerous.

Remember the stories from a few years ago when Drury and Briere were the captains (no coincidence each of their teams is going to make the playoffs) and players talked about how they were scared to let those guys down on the ice? Where’s the fear now? Is Jason Pominville or Derek Roy really going to intimidate anyone in that locker room?

And the goaltending hasn’t been the problem lately. Yes the Sabres would probably have a few more wins if Ryan Miller was between the pipes but he’s not. We’re dealing with Patrick Lalime and Mikael Tellqvist, two slighty above-average goaltenders.

During their careers they’ve proven that they are each better than full-blown backups, but not quite good enough to be starters. And when you look at the situation the Sabres are in with Miller’s injury, they’re the type of goalies you should be able to rely on.

To use a baseball analogy, they’re probably somewhere between a strong third starting pitcher and a top long reliever. These guys have been fine in net. Of course you’d like another save or two, but they’re in there right now to get you through a game so you have a chance to get two points every night. For the most part, they’ve done that. It’s everything that’s going on around them that’s been the problem. They’re servicable, but not perfect and that’s what we’ve seen in the last few weeks.

Check out the Rangers goals tonight. So many things went wrong on each goal that it’s tough to pin them solely on the goaltending.

naslundgoal2

The Naslund goal was essentially a 4-on-3 rush with four Blueshirts crashing the net and no one on the Sabres stepping up to take the puck away. Tallinder and Lydman let the Rangers come at them and they retreated to try and contain them. Tallinder put out a weak stick check, the pass got across and Drury still ends up the deepest man in the Buffalo zone.

Tallinder was right on Drury when he tipped in the Rangers second goal. When it’s all over, Drury’s hands are raised and Tallinder is skating away, staring at the rafters. The Rangers have the second-worst powerplay in the league. How does that goal happen? The Sabres don’t fight in front of the net enough. Except for the rare occasion, once the whistle blows the Sabres flick a switch and become complacent.

It was impressive to see the Sabres bounce right back and score after that Drury goal. But three minutes later, Callahan goes on a breakaway and kills any momentum the Sabres had bulit up. We’ve seen it time and again.

Avery might as well have put that Zherdev goal in. He was virtually all alone in the slot and if a rebound had come out, he was the only player in position to get a stick on it.

zherdev

The Sabres did come out strong in the third period, so obviously Ruff said something that sparked them. It didn’t last long, but I think the MacArthur goal says that Ruff can still get through to these players. Ruff deserves his share of the blame. However the players he’s sending the message to don’t have the capacity to follow through and do it on their own.

A lot of people half-jokingly called Ruff the captain of the team last year when the leadership void was as wide as Jocelyn Thibault’s five hole. You wonder now how much leadership there really is on this team. Making Rivet the captain screamed of “We need fresh blood” but it doesn’t seem like he’s been that successful in changing the culture of this team. They’re essentially the same team as last season. A team that missed the playoffs.

poms2The players that need to step up flat out aren’t doing it. Even with Lydman’s goal, it should have been Pominville cashing in that shot from below the circle.

The puck shouldn’t have even gotten to Vanek who managed to get it over to Lydman. It was an awful shot attempt by Pominville and even though the Sabres ended up scoring on that play, it needs to be a guy like Pominville, a player who wears a letter on this team, put the puck in.

These are problems we’ve seen all year and are only magnified when every mistake made on the ice means you might not be playing in the postseason.

Florida and Montreal, both teams the Sabres are chasing, lost tonight. Buffalo had a chance to gain ground on three teams and failed. Essentially, they need to win out. That means playing every period like its the last. So far, the Sabres have been able to put in two periods a night.

It’s going to take a miracle for this team to make the playoffs–and it’ll take a lot more than just Ryan Miller coming back. The team needs an attitude adjustment and just like everything else this season, it’s too late for that.

3 Comments

  1. Drury and Briere were the captains (no coincidence each of their teams is going to make the playoffs)

    Sorry, Chris, I agree with the main point you’re trying to make about the ex-captains, but I hate that parenthetical statement. Briere has played 17 games this season. Drury has 47 points and needed leadership help from Sean Avery. I think it’s absolutely a coincidence, that their teams are going to the playoffs.

    Otherwise, great post.

    • Valid point. I was going more or less going off the last two seasons, I just didn’t phrase it correctly. Briere was a key piece in the Flyers’ success last year even though injuries have made him non-existent this season.

  2. So many words…all you need to say is: This team sucks, burn it down. They HAVE to have some different guys next year. And not just letting some people go in free agency and letting Gerbe and Kennedy play.