“When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide. Where I stop and I turn and I go for a ride.” — The Beatles
With 44 seconds left in the third period of a tie game, Kevin Porter lined up for a faceoff against Ottawa’s Kyle Turris as the the opening bars of The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” blared over the First Niagara Center sound system. “Helter Skelter,” the song Charles Manson thought foretold an impending apocalyptic race war and drove his Family to kill, ushered the Sabres into an overtime period they would not survive.
It would be Turris who fired the last shot, ripping a puck into water bottle territory behind Ryan Miller as the Sabres desperately tried to fend off a 4 on 3 power play. Turris’ second goal thrust him into the lede in a game that was as tumultuous as it was frustrating for Sabres fans. There is no race war coming, but helter skelter is a good term for the messy uncertainty surrounding the Sabres this season.
I feel like the whole season has been slightly askew. Starting with the Sunday afternoon Flyers game to kick things off, things have been oddly unsettling this year. On a personal note, I spent all of Thursday assuming there was a Sabres game waiting for me at 7 p.m. A coworker thought they were playing on Friday. I didn’t realize Saturday’s tilt against Ottawa was an afternoon game until late Friday evening, and I had already been granted credentials by then. I was a random listen to the John Murphy Show away from showing up to the press box four hours late on Saturday.
Perhaps those are just examples of individual humans having a poor sense of time. Maybe I can’t read. I don’t know. The point is that I’ve never really felt settled with this team and they don’t look all that comfortable, either. They manage a good period, build a lead, then let it all slip away in the middle frame. They coax a tying goal out of things and look petrified with the man advantage and a chance to win. Miller stops four shots in four seconds but is out to lunch on a wrap around. Stafford scores a goofy one by “getting pucks on net” and they can’t get a good one when it really counts.
The roster tweaks and fresh faces haven’t helped. Porter and Whatshisname Flynn are on a line with Marcus Foligno, who somehow looks the least reliable out of the three. Still, I’d be hard-pressed to pick anyone other than Mike’s kid out of a police lineup if given the chance. The departure of serial Good Samaritan T.J. Brennan was less of a destabilization as it is a sign of the interchangeable nature of the players on this team. Gone are guys like Ellis, Brennan and McCormock; but the general funk remains.
Ville Leino’s first game of the year wasn’t remarkable, but it was noteworthy. He assisted on Mike Weber’s first goal of the season to open the scoring, and had almost 16 minutes in ice time. Leino’s ability to navigate the neutral zone, to accept and receive passes, was a noticeable improvement for a team that has struggled to do the simple things for much of the year.
Leino will make a difference on this team. He will create chances and score, and that may surprise some fans. This team, though, will be hard-pressed to surprise anyone. At this point we know what they are: an incomplete mess of shortcomings and almosts. For every good shift they have, a bad one is soon to follow. Maybe two or three. Shifts become periods become games. Everything is a small part of something else.
As I was researching the Manson Family in the press box on Saturday, someone only needed four words to sum this season up. “They blow dead bears,” they said, then shuffled off towards a service elevator reeking of trash. Twenty games left. That’s a whole mess of dead bears to take care of. To the top of the slide we go.