There are no answers in the Sabres’ dressing room. Buffalo’s players are just as lost and frustrated as the fans.
The difference Saturday night was the players had to stick around until the end of another loss. The fans booed and left before it was over.
“Hockey Heaven” has become a faithless, bitter place.
The Sabres’ slide into oblivion continued with a 4-0 loss to the New York Islanders. The disgruntled crowd in First Niagara Center saw the Sabres lose for the fourth game in a row and ninth time in 12 outings. Only 1,000 or so in the sellout crowd of 19,070 stuck around until the end, and based on the noise they did so only to jeer.
“We’re on the bottom,” left wing Steve Ott said. “We’re on the ground right now. We’re kicked in. But it’s the guys who rise, the character that has to continue to show, and that’s when the team can start getting out of this hole.
“We haven’t started turning a corner.”
No, they have not. The frustration pours out in private chats and public comments.
“Well, it’s about [expletive] time,” goaltender Ryan Miller said.
Miller was among those at a loss for something new to say after the Sabres fell in familiar fashion.
“Once again it’s our mistakes that got us,” alternate captain Drew Stafford said. “It’s the same old story.”
The only change was the messenger. His message was clear.
The players didn’t listen.
One of Ron Rolston’s clearest points in his opening days as interim coach was the importance of staying focused every shift. He said the Sabres needed to stop blinking first, which translated into avoiding preventable mistakes that turned close games into losses.
The Sabres blinked twice at the end of the second period. While the Sabres closed their eyes, the fans opened their mouths, once again booing the team off the ice.
Buffalo had a relatively strong period going, generating chances five-on-five and even with their struggling power play. They couldn’t solve the sterling goaltending of Evgeni Nabokov, however, and the game remained scoreless as the clock ticked toward zero.
Two huge miscues in the final 2:09 changed everything. It’s a seasonlong trend that showed the players can’t adhere to the message no matter who delivers it.
The opening goal came on a rush just after the Sabres’ power play failed to connect for the 42nd time in 44 chances. Matt Moulson carried the puck into the right faceoff circle, spotted Mark Streit getting free from Kevin Porter in the left circle and set up the defenseman for a tap-in.
The Sabres again crumpled under the adversity. Christian Ehrhoff gave the puck away to Michael Grabner in the Islanders’ zone, and the speedy forward scored on a breakaway with 1:04 to go.
“It happened again, and it’s unacceptable,” Ehrhoff said. “We put ourselves in that position again. We were going great. We had a lot of chances on our PP, and we just put ourselves behind again. That was the game.”
Indeed, the third period was merely a walkthrough toward a day off. The Sabres will stay away from the rink today and return to practice Monday, then depart for a game in Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.
“Right now the guys need to step away a little bit,” Rolston said. “We need to recharge. Obviously, the physical part of the lockout schedule, but just emotionally and what they went through this past week, I think right now is a good time to just get away and come back Monday and go to work.
“You have to work to feel better. You’re a part of that. You’re responsible to make good things happen.”
Right now nothing good is happening in Sabreland.
“We need to continue to work through this quicksand,” defenseman Mike Weber said. “Once we break through, it’s going to be magical again. We’ve got such a great team in here. We’re disappointed and we understand the fans are frustrated. There’s 23 guys in here, and we know what we have to do. We have to stick to the program.”