The other day, Matt Moulson joked about being old. The recently acquired forward for the Buffalo Sabres turned 30 on Friday. And with that age the six-year NHL veteran has gained a bit of wisdom.
He understands the benefits that can come with extended road trips, like the one the Sabres begin tonight at San Jose. This week-long, three-game road trip to California may be what the team needs to change its fortunes.
“It’s never a bad thing,” Moulson said. “Sometimes trips like these can change a season and really mold a team. Hopefully that’s the case on this trip and we come away with some W’s and come back home. I know the fans definitely want some wins here.”
“I think it’s going to be good for us to head out West and maybe get a fresh perspective on things,” said 28-year-old Drew Stafford.
Sometimes it’s the change of scenery that helps. Or perhaps what the team needs is some forced time together to work out those chemistry kinks and to find a way to play with, and for, each other.
West Coast trips have been a springboard for the Sabres in the past. In the 2011-12 season, the team picked up three straight wins, including back-to-back shutouts by Ryan Miller of Anaheim (2-0 on Feb. 29, 2012) and San Jose (1-0 on March 1, 2012) followed by a 5-3 win in Vancouver.
The Sabres missed the playoffs but made a push, going 10-6-0 in March.
But this is a Buffalo team that’s not looking for a playoff push. While it desperately needs a few wins, it also needs to develop team chemistry and get everyone working together.
The organization’s emphasis is on developing younger players.
The Sabres have six NHL rookies, with five getting regular playing time – Zemgus Girgensons (age 19), Rasmus Ristolainen (19), Mark Pysyk (21), Mikhail Grigorenko (19) and Johan Larsson (21).
Nikita Zadorov (18) has played in six games for the Sabres.
Add to the young player list Corey Tropp (24, in his second NHL season) and Marcus Foligno (22, in his third season).
The youth movement has been inconsistent at best and the veterans haven’t helped smooth the learning curve.
The Sabres have suffered through slow starts marked by hesitation and have faltered in getting shots on goal. Also noteworthy is the lack of team play, allowing inevitable mistakes to become game-breakers. Then there’s the, “here-we-go-again” mentality in which a few bad plays and bad breaks cause an uncontrollable downward spiral in the face of adversity.
So perhaps this extended road trip will help the veterans and rookies work through the chemistry issues.
“Hopefully that happens,” said 23-year-old Cody Hodgson, who is in his fourth NHL season. “We’re banking on it. There’s not a lot of positives so far, so hopefully we can get out there, bond and come together and become closer on the ice, too.”
Creating chemistry is one thing. Having it translate to victories on the ice is another, particularly against the teams on this trip.
The Sabres will face San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim — teams with a combined record of 30-10-4.
Buffalo has a league-worst mark of 2-13-1. If you’re looking for a bright spot, both wins have come on the road.
Tonight the Sabres face a San Jose Sharks team tied for first in the Pacific Division with the Ducks. The Sharks are 10-1-3 overall and 5-0-1 at home.
Their plus-26 in goal differential is the best in the NHL while the Sabres sit at minus-23, tied for the league worst with Edmonton.