Lions and Lambs

The Buffalo Sabres are not the only slumping team in the NHL these days.

Oftentimes the very thought feels impossible. A look at the standings, which is getting harder and harder to do, shows that other teams are bursting into flames in tandem right now.

Montreal is 3-5-2 in its last 10 games and is buckling under the pressure of having a monolingual head coach. Florida has gone 3-4-3 in its most recent outings and is still tied with Washington (COACH KILLERS!) atop the Southeast Division thanks to a whopping 10 loser points. Edmonton is an ugly 2-7-1 and has taken to maiming its own players during pregame warmups.

The Kings, meanwhile, have already had a eulogy written for them on The Classical and they actually won a freaking game.

Morose, it seems, is the word of the week in the NHL. On Thursday, a hapless Sabres team lost in Winnipeg, 4-1. Buffalo wasn’t alone. Seven of 10 games featured a team scoring one goal or less. In one of those games, a lone goal was good enough for the win. The victors, St. Louis, hosts the Sabres tonight and has gone 20-3-3 at home this season.

There are plenty of bad teams in the NHL. The numbers make that a statistical certainty. Someone has to suck, and right now the vacuum is setting up shop in downtown Buffalo. On paper there are plenty of teams as bad, or worse, than the Sabres, but the calamity brewing here is something different.

It sure feels different. As someone trapped in the vortex of Buffalo sports, this level of chaos feels pretty special. Worst Team in a Decade? Game after dull game, filled with boring hockey and bland soundbites, with little change on the horizon. To say the Sabres have lost the script is to assume they read it in the first place.

Buffalo, it seems, is Whammyville, USA.

Take a moment to read that article on The Classical. (Dammit, read The Classical already.) In a beleaguered city like Buffalo, talk of curses and bad luck is an easy trap to fall into. We search for reasons for the pain, anything to explain it away. After all, there has to be a meaning for all this.

The idea of the Whammy, and the psychological ideals behind it, is worthy of some consideration. Reputation, learned helplessness and Joseph Heller quotes. Sounds pretty good to me. Buffalo is not a cursed town, but it certainly is a place where the bad thoughts creep in quickly. And for good reason. The history of letdown and failure is there, and it’s easy to slip into bad habits and ugly memories.

Does all this bad mojo from the crowd, resonating from city limits and beyond, make for an atmosphere doomed to fail? I have no idea. It probably doesn’t matter. Fans don’t lose hockey games, but they can get bummed out pretty badly if the team they like is a trainwreck.

Buffalo’s whammy problems are something much bigger than Lindy Ruff’s System and Darcy Regier’s signings. We’d like to think one sports championship would change the landscape in Western New York, but that’s not true at all. Sure, morale would spike a bit — and for good reason — but the political corruption and stagnant economy and the numbing realities of life will still be there after the victory parade.

The Whammy isn’t about life in Buffalo, not in this sense. Most accurately applied, it’s the bad mojo in the Sabres locker room and the inability to break out of a winless funk. This team, which was once considered fun to watch, is an aimless disaster right now. They look hopeless, and maybe they might even feel a little helpless right now.

It’s a learned helplessness, though, that’s for sure. Ryan Miller, a player who has struggles with his own Whammies for sure, says change needs to come from within. Given the nature of this team and the emotions we’ve seen over the last few weeks, that’s a tall order.

‘Feel what you say, man,’ hopes everyone rooting for Buffalo blue and gold. Then spread the plague of positive thoughts. Before it’s too late for this season and beyond.

Hey, Whammies are tough to shake. Don’t we all know it. Every Slocum has an Arthur Baron. In sports, the Slocums and Barons are simply high-profile struggles in futility.

Sidney Crosby has The Whammy on Ryan Miller, Dominik Hasek once had The Whammy on everyone and, right now, everything else in the world has The Whammy on the Buffalo Sabres. Given enough time, all of that can change. Even that last one.

It may not feel like it now, but maybe this team simply chooses to learn the wrong things.

Contact Ryan on Twitter.