The silver lining is gone. All that remains in Sabreland is a huge, dark cloud that shows no sign of dissipating.
In a season filled with losses, mistakes and questionable effort, the Buffalo Sabres had their worst performance to date Tuesday. They played without passion or effort for nearly all of a 2-1 loss to previously hapless Winnipeg. The sellout crowd in First Niagara Center booed them throughout, a deserved jeering that has become commonplace but has grown in frequency and volume.
“We’re not playing the caliber of hockey this city deserves, so yeah, we deserve to get booed – from the top down, every player,” goaltender Ryan Miller said. “People, they just want you to work hard. They just want you to give them something to cheer about. We’ve been letting them down.”
The Sabres were in a 1-0 hole after just 60 seconds as very little went right from the start. They fell to 3-7 in their last 10 games and have won just six of 17 this season.
This one is memorable because it was so utterly forgettable.
“It was a terrible game by us,” defenseman Robyn Regehr said. “What we were missing was the effort from everyone, and I think the fans recognized that. They were voicing their displeasure.”
The Sabres propped themselves up following Sunday’s one-goal loss to Pittsburgh by pointing to their effort and determination against one of the NHL’s elite teams. There was little to laud after losing to a club that had dropped three straight and seven of nine.
“We’ve got to take a hard look at everything,” coach Lindy Ruff said. “That’s what we have to do. We really do.”
They can start with controllable characteristics such as effort, determination and willingness to win, but they need to examine their talent level, too. Passing remains askew, turnovers are plentiful and play in all zones is lacking.
“That’s what’s the tough part about it,” captain Jason Pominville said. “I feel as if we have the talent, the skill to make things happen, to make plays and do good things offensively. But you can’t only rely on that. You’ve got to bring the effort, and you’ve got to bring the compete level and the battle.”
The Sabres held a 15-minute, closed-door meeting following the game. More than one player had his say. The team and its furious fan base will learn Thursday if the message was received when the Sabres visit the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I sure hope so, but I don’t think that really matters,” Regehr said. “What matters is how everyone shows up tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. That’s what really matters.”
The Sabres are buried near the bottom of the standings for the third straight season. They are just 6-10-1. When games in hand are calculated, the only team below the Sabres that can’t pass them is Columbus (4-10-2).
“I think everybody in the locker room has to understand how the situation looks,” Miller said. “We’re not in a good position in the standings, and our game has small signs of improvement in certain areas, but it’s still not clicking in others. For the amount of points we have to get, it needs to be clicking. We need to get moving here.”
Miller had to go back to his rookie season of 2002-03 to recall hearing the amount of boos being rained down upon the Sabres. That club won just 27 of 82 games and ranks among the worst in franchise history.
“I’m embarrassed,” Ruff said. “I have a hard time explaining that one after putting together two pretty solid performances.”
The start was ominous. With the puck behind Buffalo’s net, three Sabres and two Jets dug for it. Evander Kane won the fight and threw a pass out front. Neither of the remaining Sabres picked up Bryan Little, and the wide-open center beat Miller on the glove side before the 19,070 fans had even settled into their seats.
Having seen this story before, the crowd booed the home team off the ice at intermission and continued throughout the second.
The Jets went up, 2-0, with 5:46 gone when Buffalo resorted to its seasonlong problem of defensive-zone turnovers. Nathan Gerb pushed a soft pass toward Pominville near the blue line, but Ron Hainsey easily stole it. Andrew Ladd’s shot then fluttered past Miller.
Pominville’s goal with 21.3 seconds left in the second brought cheers, but they didn’t last.
“We were as disappointed in our play in the first period and the second as they were,” Pominville said of the fans. “It’s so frustrating and so disappointing. It’s tough for us to even sit here and try to find things to say.”