Actually no, I’m not.
Call it what you like, but I wasn’t very impressed by Saturday night’s come from behind victory against the Hurricanes. To me it seemed more like Carolina imploding than the Sabres surging back, but perhaps the ‘Canes history of third period disasters is to blame for that. Still, the first two periods on Saturday were yet another reminder that the “Bizarro Sabres” are the ones that play good hockey.
For all the preachings of change and maturity we’ve heard over the summer, the last few weeks have been filled with long stretches of bad hockey and spurts of strong play. It’s hard to differentiate the last few years of Sabres hockey from the last few weeks, save for an appearance by Mike Grier here and there. It’s a two horse team, with Miller and Vanek leading the way while the rest of the team struggles to get things together.
In fact, the only real difference between this season and the two seasons prior is that Vanek has had longer bad stretches than we’re used to. He’s been a non-factor in a number of games this year, and that’s an alarming trend on a team that relies so heavily on him to be a consistent 40-goal scorer. No one else is standing up and putting the puck in the net, and that’s been the main problem for this team over the last few weeks.
The only constant source of support is Ryan Miller, who very well might be playing the best hockey of his career. Time and time again the Sabres have relied on Ryan Miller too much, played him in too many games; and the result is a worn down, out of gas goaltender during the playoff push.
One of the theories being tossed around by fans right now is simple: ride Miller early and stack up a ton of points, then coast a bit following the Olympics and let your franchise goaltender rest up for the playoffs. That’s all well and good, but we’ve already seen the Sabres lose games they should not lose with Miller starting. Games against Florida, the Islanders, Atlanta, and almost on Saturday against the Hurricanes, all were games against bad teams where the effort in front of Miller wasn’t good enough.
So no, tossing in five against a shaky team at home after a lousy two periods isn’t good enough. And getting pushed around by Toronto for a few periods and then breaking through won’t be enough tonight, either. If this team is more than just a franchise goaltender, if this “core” is worth much of anything, then they need to win games on their own. It shouldn’t take a huge save with a few minutes left in the second to “spark” a comeback in the third.
Say what you will about “good teams finding a way” to win, but good teams don’t get outplayed by terrible teams who are winless on the road and without their franchise goaltender. Good teams never give those teams a chance.
October gave us some hope that this Sabres team might be different this year, but on the last day of the month I can’t say that November helped their case very much. After a patented Buffalo Sabres strong start, November has given us a lot of signs that this team might just be more of the same.