Steve Ott was greeted with a rousing ovation when he was introduced in the starting lineup Thursday night, so apparently fans weren’t overly upset with him for his critical comments about them earlier in the week. Say what you will about Buffalo, but its people generally are a friendly and forgiving lot.
Ott will learn soon enough that Sabres fans don’t ask for much more than a full effort on most nights, which is precisely why he’s one of their more popular players. He’s an honest player who is intelligent and tough. You never get the sense from watching him play that he just stole your wallet and maxed out your credit cards.
Sadly, on this team, that’s all it takes to stand out.
Ott has been here for four months. If he was around for the past four years, he would have known the boos raining down from the stands, which returned Thursday night in a 5-1 loss to the Canadiens, weren’t directed toward him or the young teammates he was trying to protect.
They were booing the franchise, the general manager, the owner, the product, the repetitiveness of it all. They were booing because they’ve exhausted all other options. They were booing because that’s what fans do when they feel like they’ve been ignored by the very people collecting their money.
Montreal outshot Buffalo, 42-15, in the game and 14-2 through the first 12-plus minutes of the second period. Ott effectively muted a few boo birds, but they were mostly drowned out by cheering Habs’ fans Thursday. Still, plenty could be heard during various stages of the game after the Canadiens assumed command.
“Absolutely and rightfully so,” Ott said in a quiet dressing room after the game. “I said that at the beginning. It was a shellacking. Boo your head off. I agree. I’d be booing, too, from the bench. That’s not the issue.”
Ott still didn’t understand that fans have greater issues than a few games or one season or the failure to get the puck out of the zone.
Ted Black can talk all he wants about the Sabres being better off now than when Terry Pegula bought the franchise. He might be kidding himself, but he’s not fooling anybody here. The Sabres are spending more, winning less, going in the wrong direction and refusing to make the necessary changes at the top. For him to pass the season off as improvement insults the intelligence of the people who have spent good money on a lousy product. The Sabres are a day closer to winning the Stanley Cup the way people are a day closer to death. Progress can be found at the construction site across the street from First Niagara Center. What you’ve watched all season inside the arena is actually destruction.
I’ll spare you another lengthy rant about Darcy Regier. You’re welcome. By now, you know my opinion of his work. Forget the first 13-plus seasons. It’s a matter of time before the Sabres miss the playoffs in both full seasons under new ownership. Fans are booing because they’re not getting anywhere near their money’s worth.
That’s the issue.
You can see where the Sabres are going. They have lowered their standards, which makes it easier to sell progress next season and beyond. Regier will likely stick around. Ron Rolston has a reputation for being a good teacher, which will likely be enough to stay and oversee the development of a young team. They’ll buy more time.
Pegula could improve his team and re-energize a frustrated fan base in a flash if he made the right decision with his general manager. Imagine the buzz in town during the offseason if a creative and aggressive GM, or pretty much anyone else, showed up and started the necessary moves to get this team going in the right direction.
Fans are booing because they feel they have no voice and no choice. Black is terrific at answering emails and answering questions from the media, but he has shown little regard for paying customers and critics. It hasn’t dawned on upper management that critical fans and the evil media actually could have been right all along.
The Sabres teased their fans yet again with a three-game winning streak, but this isn’t Atlanta. Most people knew the winning streak was a mirage. They weren’t overly impressed with the performance against New Jersey even though Buffalo never trailed and ended up winning. It’s another reason they booed.
And they had more reasons to share their disgust Thursday night after seeing the Sabres get dominated from start to finish by yet another team playing its backup goalie. Montreal scored twice in the first period, added two more in the second and treated Buffalo like a speed bump on its way to Toronto.
“Embarrassing,” Ott said. “Our effort was terrible. Fourteen shots to how many for them, 40 or 50? Who knows. It felt like a ton. It was definitely, man-to-man, completely not good enough.”
Ott was one of few players on the Sabres who effectively aroused the fan base Thursday night. He hammered Brendan Gallagher with a heavy hit along the wall with just more than seven minutes left in the second period. He wasted no time dropping his gloves when Francis Bouillon came to his rookie teammate’s defense.
The Sabres broke up the shutout in the third period, with the game all but decided, when Kevin Porter made a pretty feed to Brian Flynn for an easy goal. It was a nice play in a season lacking them and enough to temporarily get people out of their seats. Fans even cheered a minor penalty assessed to the Sabres in the final minute for abuse of officials.
See, it really doesn’t take much. For a few brief moments, the Sabres gave their fans a reason to cheer. So they did. That’s how it works.