They should serve ginger ale at First Niagara Center, because that’s what you should sip while watching this Sabres team. Gigner ale is bland and mostly makes you think of being sick. Sure, it goes great with some things. Chinese food, for one, but mostly it’s about recovery. Old wives tales about getting better and getting back on your feet.
After writing about how the Sabres might be fine in the macro sense, I took a week off. They played three games in that time, and I have little to say about any of them.
The basic problem is that, while each game had its unique qualities, this part of the season has already melded together to cover an unmemorable span of time soon to be erased from our memory. Games are happening and we’re taking very little of value out of them. What’s interesting is that while this stretch is entirely forgettable, each game was different enough to not fit a particular early-season narrative. Other than that the Sabres are pretty terrible.
Last Saturday night against the Islanders, the unique problem was that the Sabres actually won. Ryan Miller played remarkably well and the Sabres got a late goal to steal it. It was a bad game without the consequences of a loss, which makes it tough to properly discuss with bummed out clips and phrases.
Sunday night was all about destroying the good vibes the Sabres’ (and Thomas Vanek’s) big win against the Bruins earlier in the season were supposed to bring. Narrative says it’s a different Sabres team these days, after slaying the dragon that mostly looks like a bear. But Buffalo couldn’t score against a backup goaltender and the defense continued to struggle. At least Pat Kaleta learned how to fight in the hospital.
Tuesday in Ottawa the team once again couldn’t score and Tyler Myers looked… better. That’s your #narrative wrap-up of the last week. Another loss and oh, look, they’re in last place in the conference.
But so are a bunch of other people because the problems the Sabres are experiencing are not all that unique. I don’t think they’re the worst team in hockey, but they can’t win faceoffs. They can’t get the puck on net. They can’t score and they can’t play defense. They are bad at the game and bad at winning, but mostly they are just not that fun to watch.
None of that is universally true. They had a 42-31 advantage in shots on Tuesday and the faceoff split was much closer to 50-50. They continue to block a ton of shots, but all of this is really what makes the games blur together. Nothing consistent, other than Thomas Vanek, has come out of this season. Other than Atlas it’s tough to talk about anything concrete unless you really want to dig into the more advanced numbers and draw conclusions other than “they look really bad right now.”
You can believe that nothing will change with this team in the short-term. You can believe Lindy Ruff when he says it’s on him to fix this team. You can believe that Darcy Regier is pushing to make a trade and shake things up.
Believe what you want, but I think the important thing here is to keep drinking that ale. A 5-8-1 record, even in a 48-game season, is mostly meaningless. Snap-judgement after each game is tough to justify when they are playing the same games and suffering through the same problems. The streaks and habits of a team are starting to matter, of course, but you simply have to keep going until all these little stretches in time start to add up and finally mean something.
So far, we haven’t had a whole lot to stack up and evaluate. That’s a bummer, but what’s even more disappointing is that little of this brief season has remained important as time goes on. Both Vanek slaying the Bruins or the improbable comeback against Montreal last Thursday have been lost in an ocean of “meh,” and that’s a real shame. This is supposed to be interesting and fun and so far, it’s mostly been a few shoulder shrugs and a long gulp of bland.