Everyone admits that something happens when the Sabres play the Ottawa Senators. The record speaks for itself: over the last four years Ottawa has gone 19-6-4 against the Sabres. Since the Senators have fallen from perennial playoff team to one-dimensional bottom dweller this record is even more shocking. We’ve called it the “ghosts” or “demons” associated with Ottawa, but there is something tangible to this inability to get past them.
The thing is, no one on the team seems to know what the problem is, either. I suppose that’s a good thing, as inaction despite awareness of a solution would be an even bigger problem when you really think about it. Players are asked and give the usual answers, but nothing concrete has been established that explains what happens when the two square off.
The general consensus is that Ottawa “gets up” for games against the Sabres because of the rivalry between the two teams. If that is the case, it would seem to me that the problem once again comes back to the Sabres. Shouldn’t both teams “get up” for this game and, if so, the superior talent come through in the end? That isn’t asking too much of a good hockey team, right?
What I do know is that Ottawa isn’t blowing Buffalo away by playing great hockey. They may play better against Buffalo, but it isn’t a spectacular performance getting it done. While it’s natural as a fan to find fault with your own team instead of giving the other team credit, there wasn’t much Ottawa did that was all that impressive on Saturday, and I was certainly looking.
The defense was very suspect, with guys standing around and letting Ottawa’s one good line beat them. No wait, Foligno scoring twice as well. Oh and Chris Kelly, too. Wow. The fact of the matter is that the Ruutu line shouldn’t be scoring, yet this is the third game in a row where they get at least one goal. The Sabres are letting mediocre players on bad teams beat them.
Buffalo was awful at even strength, and if not for a good power play and shaky goaltending from Brian Elliot they would be looking at another weak offensive performance against an inferior team. In fact, the way Elliot was playing three goals doesn’t sound all that impressive. The rebounds were big, the goals were soft, and the chances just weren’t cashed in.
It wasn’t all that bad, but the mistakes did cost them. Patrick Lalime was less than impressive, giving way to the discussion of whether or not Tellqvist should have been given his first start as a Sabre. Looking at the schedule I don’t think you can start him for the next two games, and that’s a lot of consecutive starts for a guy who can’t be acclimated with the workload just yet.
I suppose you could give them credit for clawing back into the game multiple times, but it was their poor play that put them behind to begin with; and it certainly was their fault that Ottawa exploded in the third. Say what you want about Buffalo pressing and giving up those chances late, but with ten minutes left in the third it shouldn’t be impossible to score a goal without giving up two more.
I’m tired of the excuses given for this team’s failure to convert these chances. Their play is erratic, the results constantly fluctuating, and the expectations are always changing because of it. The fact of the matter is that the Sabres can’t play .500 hockey and make the playoffs. There was a time when that was possible, but they’ve been playing below that mark for too long while other teams improve.
If you watched hockey yesterday you know that the Sabres aren’t getting any help these days. The Penguins just went 5-0 on a road trip, and Carolina dropping at least six on whoever they play recently. With the amount of four point games on the schedule Buffalo is officially out of games they can blow. They will lose more games, but they have give a solid effort and lose because a team still outplays them. It’s not over, but it’s going to be tight for sure. Too many teams are still in it to glide to the finish and be okay.
The Sabres don’t play until tomorrow, so until then take a look at the schedule and find ten wins. Don’t worry, I’ll be looking too.