Make Yourself

by Ryan

Maxim Afinogenov has scored three goals this season. This is one of them.

The last time Afinogenov scored was December 26th, and it looked a little something like this:

I think the similarities between the two are unmistakable. In fact, here’s what I wrote about that game way back when:

I think it’s pretty clear the differences between the two teams. The Washington Capitals pinned their hopes on a superstar making a spectacular play, while the Sabres had theirs riding on an utter disappointment getting really, really lucky. Is that really where the Sabres are right now? I know injuries have taken a toll and the backup was in last night, but can Maxim Afinogenov really be the hero of this team?

If you substituted “Washington Capitals” for “Philadelphia Flyers”, would that paragraph be out of place here today? The last time the Sabres left Philly the score didn’t match the game. This time it does. Buffalo was outclassed in every aspect of a game they absolutely needed. The Flyers may be the better team, but Buffalo had to be better and wasn’t.

What makes it so frustrating is that the game was right there. Tied up after 40 minutes, the Sabres needed a good third period to steal two points and stay with everyone else in the playoff race. How many times has this team been close with 20 minutes left, only to see the third period explode? I’m not sure the exact number, but the phrase “too many” comes to mind.

It took 27 seconds for the third period to explode. That’s almost record time for a team that has made a habit out of third period disasters. Sure, the effort was there for two periods, but that third period was embarrassing. The defense fell apart, the forwards didn’t get enough chances, and Lalime could always be better. Still, when you allow a goal on the first shift of a period you absolutely have to win you can’t expect to steal two points.

We’re starting to get to the point where you can say this team just doesn’t have it. It’s no longer pessimism, but the feeling you get watching a team get close and not have enough to get over the hump. If they can’t win a period, what should make me think they go 10-5 down the stretch against a schedule of mostly playoff teams? The trade deadline boost is gone, and there are too many teams playing above .500 hockey while the Sabres hover around mediocre.

There are still 15 games left, and I’m sure somewhere down the line Buffalo will get it together and make a run. Still, the feeling we all had last night is usually a strong indicator of the truth. It will take an improbable run to get where they want to be, and they have been pretty ordinary all season. They are also not getting any help from the teams around them, but when you can’t win games on your own how much help can you really ask for?

This team may have some fight left in it, but it’s going to take a lot for it to matter.

3 Comments

  1. dave in Rocha

    “The trade deadline boost is gone, and there are too many teams playing above .500 hockey while the Sabres hover around mediocre.”

    If anything, the other teams that have been playing well are about due to come down from their deadline boost as well. The Canes are 8-1-1 lately, a 139 point pace. There’s no way they sustain that over the next 15 games. The Panthers have injuries to deal with and could easily go 5-5 over their next 10. The Rangers have sucked since November. The Pens are the only team that I expect to continue on their current pace because they’re simply too good to be so low.

    Am I saying that the Sabres are safe? Not at all. That 3rd was horrible, and they’ll go 7-10 instead of 10-7 if they repeat it. But just as we’ve seen that 3rd period before, we’ve also seen Herculean efforts from them. Play the way they did from New Year’s to Vanek’s injury and they’re fine.

    Will they do it? Who knows? Will the other teams actually regress to the mean? Who knows. But the overall picture shows that very little has been decided.

  2. Ryan

    The Canes have won four in a row and 8 of 10, and they got a lot better at the deadline. The Pens have won 7 straight, most of those well before the deadline. Even Montreal has taken points in 7 of 10, and they just fired a head coach.

    You can say that anyone can easily go 5-5, the fact of the matter is that they haven’t. They also aren’t playing “January-Vanek’s injury” hockey, and they only have 15 games to win ten. If you’re looking at the standings, I’d say the Rangers and Sabres are least likely to hit that mark, and it’s no coincidence that they both sit outside of the top eight.

    I didn’t say herculean efforts are not possible, I just don’t expect them. Not from this team. What have they done for me to do so? All I said was that the feeling was there that told me it’s not going to be enough. Time will tell, but right now the numbers aren’t saying otherwise just yet.

  3. dave in Rocha

    I’m not trying to invalidate the gut feeling you’re having that they won’t have it in the end. If that’s what your gut tells you then that’s fine. I’m just pointing out that if you’re going to say that the Sabres lost their post-deadline boost, then it’s logical to expect the other teams to lose theirs (to varying degrees). You can’t expect Kunitz to keep up his 95 point pace (since joining the Pens), or Cole to keep up his 164 point pace (since rejoining the Canes) forever.

    As for what have the Sabres done to show you they can do it? I already said, they played that stretch from New Year’s to Vanek’s injury. Maybe they’ll regain that form starting tomorrow, or maybe they won’t. But they HAVE done it. Honestly I think it’s pretty damn impossible to predict this team’s hot and cold streaks. Them going into either starting tomorrow wouldn’t surprise me in the least.