The Sabres are a punching bag and a punch line. Established veterans are being embarrassed and treated worse than rookies by a novice coach. The teenagers are learning that losing is OK as long as it’s in the name of suffering.
No one should be concerned, though. It’s the blueprint.
Buffalo’s era of absolute ineptitude is going exactly as owner Terry Pegula, President Ted Black, General Manager Darcy Regier and all their esteemed advisers planned. The Sabres are the worst team in the NHL and could be on their way to becoming the worst team in league history.
This is what they wanted, right?
“Out of this team, I knew it was going to take awhile,” coach Ron Rolston said. “It’s still going to take awhile for us to figure out how we need to play to get the identity that we want to have. We just don’t have it right now.”
Just because folks were warned to expect the worst doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.
“That was a disaster to be a part of,” goaltender Ryan Miller said after Friday’s 6-2 shellacking in Anaheim, a loss that left people wondering where the organization goes next in its “process.”
“I don’t know,” Miller said. “I really don’t. You just turn the page and move on. I’ve been part of many disasters in my career, so just keep it going.”
The Sabres flew home from California on Saturday as a bewildered bunch sporting a huge black eye in the form of a 3-15-1 record. They’re on pace for 30 points. The lowest total in NHL history is 21, set in 1974-75 by the Washington Capitals – an 8-67-5 club that didn’t have the benefit of shootout victories, which account for 67 percent of the Sabres’ win total.
The latest loss highlighted a growing problem. Some players feel they’re being mistreated by an inexperienced coach who has nine regulation wins in his 50 games behind an NHL bench (a ratio that works out to 18 percent).
Rolston benched the top line of center Cody Hodgson and wingers Matt Moulson and Tyler Ennis for the final 26:11 on Friday. Though they’d generated just one shot, they weren’t on the ice for any of the Ducks’ goals.
“We’ve got to work, and we didn’t feel that the work was there,” Rolston said.
The three players who’ve accounted for nine of the Sabres’ paltry 31 goals sat shoulder-to-shoulder in the middle of the bench, watching their teammates play.
“It’s the most embarrassed I’ve been in my career,” Moulson told The News.
The 30-year-old has topped 30 goals three times and is on pace for a fourth despite a recent trade from the New York Islanders. The veteran of 339 games is a pending unrestricted free agent who is getting a harsh introduction to the Sabres’ rebuilding scheme.
“It seems like they just have lapses for a little bit, get down a little bit and then it’s tough to get back in this league when you do that,” Moulson said. “We learn from our mistakes and put it behind us. That’s all you can really do in professional sports. Hopefully, we get something out of it and move on.”
The Sabres’ young players are expected to learn on the fly in a league that is based on results outside of Buffalo. Of course, the learning really only comes during those select times when they’re on the ice.
Two of the Sabres’ most noticeable players Friday – 19-year-old Mikhail Grigorenko and 18-year-old Nikita Zadorov – had plenty of energy because they hadn’t played in a week. Grigorenko, scratched in the previous three games, scored the Sabres’ only two goals. Zadorov, who watched three of the previous four games, mixed offensive skill and physical play with numerous defensive lapses.
Zadorov wasn’t the only one lost in his own end. Captain Steve Ott was on the ice for all four of the Ducks’ first-period goals, which included a hat trick by Anaheim captain Ryan Getzlaf. Defensemen Tyler Myers and Henrik Tallinder witnessed three of the Ducks’ early tallies.
“If we executed in our D zone, if we knew when Getzlaf was out there and guys paid a little bit more attention to who was out there, then probably three or four goals would not have happened,” rookie forward Zemgus Girgensons said.
The Sabres’ penalty killers helped the team stay close during many of the early losses, but they’ve finally joined in the struggling. They’ve killed just 70 percent of the 20 penalties during the last six games to fall to 21st in the league.
The power play ranks 25th. The offense is 29th after generating 1.63 goals per game. The defense ranks 27th after giving up 3.21 goals per outing. Buffalo averages 10 fewer shots than the opponents, who take 36.5. The Sabres have given up the opening goal in 17 of their 19 games.
Hodgson’s take on the loss to the Ducks sums up the entire season, which resumes Tuesday when Los Angeles visits First Niagara Center.
“Well,” he said, “there’s lots of ways to improve.”