Sabres back at it today for another Kid's Day (uggh).
The Buffalo Sabres are paying four players not to play hockey for them anymore and by the looks of their last game, are paying some of their roster players to skate in the Blue and Gold but not really play for them either.
One player seems to be saving himself for an expected new team via trade and another one's apathy may be construed as pouting. The Sabres may have leader who's probably banged up, but still only seems to lead on occasion, a scorer that isn't scoring (and has the worst plus/minus on the team,) an agitator who's playing like he's been neutered, and a large group of players that fluctuate between playing up to their potential and falling prey to the crap show their caught up in. At times this group puts it all together and shines like in a couple of recent games against top teams. More often than not for this collection of Sabres players, the individual inconsistencies are too many and too broad to come out with a victory on many nights and certainly not in the afternoon where Buffalo is 0-5-1 in day games. At their worst they form a black hole on the ice that sucks in the entire soul of the franchise into it leaving the Knox Brothers looking down and asking themselves, "What the hell has happened to our beloved Sabres?"
I get the inconsistencies of a long season with at team short on talent and a rookie coach that doesn't seem to be NHL-ready quite yet. I get that the GM wanted to take a good, long look at the players and the team during an evaluation period as he plots his course for the future. And I can even get on board with players having off games and/or just not having it in them on certain nights, after all it's an 82-game season spanning over six months and the NHL grind can be brutal.
But what we saw on display Saturday afternoon is unacceptable. It was a piss-poor performance on any normal game day much less during a promotion called Kid's Day, where the future fans of the Blue and Gold come together to watch their hometown heroes. What those in attendance on Saturday witnessed was the Sabres going through the motions for 40 minutes against the Los Angeles Kings, what they heard was a reported "loud thud" coming from where GM Jason Botterill sits during games and they responded with a chorus of boos as the Sabres left the ice down 4-0 after the second period.
It was the fourth such Kid's Day promotion and the third clunker this group delivered. Buffalo is 0-4-0 during those games and have been outscored by a combined 20-7. In four losses during Kid's Day (out of 42 total losses when you add in OT/SO,) that minus-13 makes up nearly 25% of their league-worst minus-54 goal differential.
This is how you cultivate the future fan base?
Nothing has come out Pegula Sports and Entertainment as of late, but it's safe to say that the owners Terry and Kim Pegula, as well as team president Russ Brandon aren't too thrilled with what's transpired with this team this year, especially on Kid's Day. Then again, the Pegulas are no angels either as they're plan of diving to the bottom for a top pick has gone awry. Regardless of whether you're for it or against it, the tank did happen and Sabreland is left to deal with the after affects.
If you're into karma, this drudgery is an appropriate karmic response to the tank. If you're into seven-year karmic cycles then this era is a part of that as well.
Oddly enough, yesterday was the seventh anniversary of Terry Pegula purchasing the Buffalo Sabres and the Sabres outside of the playoffs for the seventh full season since Pegula took over ownership of the team. That would have the previous cycle begin in 2004-05 when there was a lockout with the Sabres making the Eastern Conference Finals the two years after. However, the next five years would see them make the playoffs twice, getting bounced in the first round both times.
The cycle before that began with the Darcy Regier/Lindy Ruff era under the Rigas family who jettisoning GM John Muckler and reigning Jack Adams Award winner,Ted Nolan. That era began with the team making the conference finals and Stanley Cup Finals in consecutive years under Regier and Ruff before things unraveled to the point where their Hall of Fame goalie and team captain both demanded trades. In the 2002-03 season of that cycle, owner John Rigas was indicted by the feds for fraud in summer 2002, the NHL took over day-to-day operations thereafter, the team went bankrupt in January, 2003, they were bought by B. Thomas Golisano in March while heading into rebuild mode.
Muckler took over the Sabres GM slot to begin the prior seven-year cycle in 1990-91. His big move came the following year when he traded for Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine. The team made the playoffs in six of those seven seasons but made it out of the first round only two times.
To say that it's been tumultuous over the last 21 years in Sabreland is an understatement, but regardless of that, we're still in the here and now and it hasn't been pretty.
Defenseman Marco Scandella told the gathered media post-game on Saturday that they had a good team, something which raised the eyebrows of many. Scandella's right, to an extent, in that there are good teams and a lot of parity and sometimes little things can be the difference between winning an losing. For as bad as Buffalo's record is they've lost 11 games in overtime or shootout and have been on the losing side of a one-goal game another nine times which means that they've lost 20 one-goal games out of 59 total. Add in another nine occasions where they were within a goal late in the game only to give up an empty netter (or two) and over half of their games have been losses where they were within one goal of a win or a point.
But those games took effort, and what we saw on Saturday was a complete lack of effort on the part of the Sabres through the first two periods. It's something we've seen on far too many occasions this season with three of them coming during a Kid's Day matinee.
Lo and behold, it's President's Day today, the kids are out of school and there's another Kid's Day promotion at KeyBank Center. The Washington Capitals are in town and presumably in a foul mood. The Caps got trounced 7-1 in Chicago on Saturday night and were jumped by the Pittsburgh Penguins atop the Metropolitan Division.
This is the time of year that features many teams that are either in playoff mode or are beginning to gear up for that. The Kings are a perfect example as they came into Buffalo just outside of a playoff spot and were determined to leave with two points. The Sabres didn't come close to matching that intensity and it showed. The Caps just got surpassed by the Penguins and have the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils nippin' at their heels. Washington is on the last game of a four-game road trip which has seen them go 1-1-1 so far.
It's safe to say that they'll be ready to play.
Many would be appalled if the Sabres came out flat today like they did against the Kings on Saturday, yet it's safe to say that most would not be surprised as this team has done so on many occasions. But to do so at home in front of thousands of kids, twice in a row, is truly unacceptable.
The Sabres announced that Rochester goalie Linus Ullmark has been recalled. Reports have starter Robin Lehner day-to-day with a lower body injury, possibly from kicking the crap out of everything around him after his team mates hung him out to dry yet again.
Lehner himself isn't without fault for the shortcomings of this team this season as he's had awful games on more than one occasion, but more often than not his teammates have given him little either in goal-support and/or tenacity and/or competence in the defensive zone.
Ullmark has been holding the fort in Rochester and once again looks as if he'll be named team MVP. He's faced the second-most shots in the AHL (1118,) is seventh in the league in save percentage (.924) and wins (18) and has the 11th best goals-against average (2.43) while appearing in the third most games (36.)
The 6'4" 221 lb. native of Lugnvik, Sweden has appeared in one game for the Sabres this season allowing one goal on 45 shots (.978 sv%) in a 3-1 Buffalo victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets just prior to the Sabres bye-week in January. In all Ullmark has 9-11-2 NHL record with a 2.55 GAA and .918 sv%.
The Sabres will be wearing their Winter Classic jerseys for the third time this season and they will be giving away Classic-inspired jersey towels at the gate today. Buffalo is 1-0-1 while wearing those.
Game-time is 3 pm.
Housley told the gathered media today that Chad Johnson will get the start in net and that Nicolas Baptiste will be back in the lineup.
The projected lineup from Joe Yerdon of sabres.com looks to be: