Sabres Week 15: Breaking Bottom

Congrats, Dom!  Photo from si.com

Congrats, Dom! Photo from si.com

If Tim Murray’s New Year’s Resolution was to break through new levels of low for the season, he’s achieved that in spades. The Sabres have not won a game since 12/27/2014, losing 11 straight since then – the worst streak since losing five consecutive games in mid-November. At that time, our horrible record was catching national attention – the kind that we’ve become accustomed to here in the Queen City. It was also around this time that the team seemed to have begun to gel, putting together an impressive string of wins and digging upward, coming within four points of a playoff spot. That’s when the wheels came off, as well as the doors, the hood, the trunk, the engine, and all of the glass, and we became a skidding sparkbox, spinning our way into brick wall of last place – the coveted McDavid spot.

Risto clears the crease.  Photo from mercedsunstar.com

Risto clears the crease. Photo from mercedsunstar.com

Tuesday was a great day in Buffalo sports as the team honored goaltender Dominik Hasek by retiring his number, raising a banner into the rafters. Hasek had left the Sabres to head to Detroit, winning a Cup while there, so it was fitting that the Sabres faced off against the Red Wings, and the affair was very similar to Hasek’s experience in the NHL. Buffalo gave it a good go, but Detroit is a team that wins. After a short-handed goal in the first and a power play goal in the second, the Sabres’ special teams had shot themselves in the foot once again. Defenseman Mike Weber got his first of the season to make it 2-1, but the Sabres wouldn’t find the back of the net again and lost 3-1.

In the practices leading up to the game against Minnesota, Sabres head coach Ted Nolan had been trying different looks – anything to stir up a team that looks and feels defeated. One of the most interesting moves he’d made was putting defenseman and frequent power play quarterback Tyler Myers front and center. It makes sense to take one of the tallest men in the NHL and park him in front of the goaltender, so when the second power play unit took to the ice on Tuesday night, I was excited to see what would happen. My excitement lasted less than ten seconds as Myers’ replacement at the point, Andrej Meszaros, fumbled the puck, succumbing to pressure from the Wild penalty kill. Meszaros looked watched the puck head the other direction, and failed to cover the man going to the front of the net, leading to a short-handed goal for the second consecutive game. The Sabres have scored 11 power play goals and have allowed 8 short-handed goals. They are a +3. On the power play. They lost this game 7-0. At that time, they had scored only six goals in 2015.

A flukey breakaway goal defeats Buffalo.  Photo from mclatcheyinteractive.com

A flukey breakaway goal defeats Buffalo. Photo from mclatcheyinteractive.com

Saturday night, the Sabres hosted Philly for the first of back-to-back games. They made it through two periods playing well and keeping pace with a team that seems to be better by leaps and bounds. They fell flat in the third though, and two goals before the halfway mark put Buffalo down 4-2. Zemgus Girgensons scored on the power play – his second of the night – halving Philly’s lead. But Buffalo would muster no more offense and lost 4-3. It was perhaps the first time this season defensemen Zadorov and Ristolainen showed their youth and made some uncharacteristic mistakes. The D-pairing has been the most consistent for the team, with the number one line changing frequently due to injuries.

In the final matchup before the all-star break, the Sabres travelled to the Motor City to face the Red Wings. Before the 14-minute mark of the first period, Buffalo had jumped out to a 3-0 lead, even scoring on the power play! It seemed that the suffering of the week had shaken the team just enough to spark some momentum before the All-Star break. Inept as ever, though, the team allowed three quick goals from the Wings and just over halfway through the game, the score was knotted 3-3. The third period did not go well either, and perennial standout Henrik Zetterberg defeated the Sabres on his own, scoring a third period hat trick. Ennis added one tally to make the game seem a little closer than it was, but Detroit’s six goals were too much to overcome.

Zadorov executes a great hip check.  Photo from nhle.com

Zadorov executes a great hip check. Photo from nhle.com

It’s been an interesting first half of the season. Buffalo’s 11-game losing streak is the worst in the history of the franchise, and, honestly, it doesn’t look good coming out of the break next week. A trip to Western Canada has the team playing Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver. Calgary sits in fourth place in the Pacific and has won six of the last nine, losing close games to the Islanders and Panthers in that stretch – teams that are both on their own surprising rises this season. Buffalo defeated Calgary in their first meeting, but I don’t think we can stop the plummet against the Flames. Thursday the 29th, Buffalo takes on the Oilers. These two franchises are doing their best dance with the last place spot, and this matchup could either be amazing or horrible. At this time, Buffalo and Edmonton are tied with 31 points, but Edmonton holds the head-to-head advantage. A Buffalo loss here would secure that tie-breaker if the second half of the season plays out like the first. Vancouver comes into the Friday night tilt well rested, playing only one game during the week. The Sabres, on the other hand, will be on the backside of a back-to-back, closing their west coast tour. I think the Sabres will go down hard, and Miller will get a Miller shoutout, allowing a late goal from Zee. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. We’ve got a week to

Your very own blue & gold meditation rug.

Your very own blue & gold meditation rug.

rest and recuperate. It’s going to be a long ride to the inevitable finish of the season. Take the week to learn some breathing exercises or some zen meditation techniques. We’re definitely going to need them.

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