Maybe the Buffalo Sabres need to switch uniform colors. Maybe they need to stay in a hotel the night before a game. Maybe they need to wear earplugs so they don’t have to listen to their understandably surly fans.
Or maybe they just need to pull up their socks and give a complete effort for the folks at First Niagara Center and not look so spooked on the ice.
Whatever the theory, something has to change for the Sabres at home. They’re 0-8-1 downtown, the only winless team in its own barn in the NHL. And they’re enduring their worst start at home since they came into the NHL in 1970.
The Sabres, in fact, are on the cusp of becoming just the second team in NHL history to go winless in their first 10 home games of the season. The 1983-84 Pittsburgh Penguins started 0-9-2 before getting a win at home.
In a season full of riches on the embarrassment scale, all this ranks pretty high heading into tonight’s visit by the Los Angeles Kings.
“On the road you know you have to bring your ultimate game to have a chance to win. The compete and work ethic have to be there from the get-go,” captain Steve Ott said after practice Monday, the team’s first in Buffalo in more than a week after it returned from its California trip.
“At home, you’re kind of trying to prevent that because you know teams are coming in feeling the same way and trying to play that way by going hard against you right off the bat. We have to start with a compete level and a mindset of a road game.”
The Sabres have lost seven straight at home in regulation for just the second time in their history since getting their lone point in the Oct. 8 overtime loss to Tampa Bay. They have scored 14 goals in their nine games.
Buffalo started 0-6-1 at home three years ago and was 0-7 in 1993 before ripping off a 7-1-1 run at Memorial Auditorium, but it’s hard to imagine a bounceback streak like that this year. No other seasons in franchise annals come close to this one for home struggles out of the gate.
“Our fans definitely deserve better,” said defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. “Hopefully we can get a win for them and put a good 60-minute effort for them.
“It’s kind of a snowball effect. You have to build some confidence and it starts with little things. Get a good first shift in, build confidence and stick with it. We haven’t done that enough.”
The Sabres are 3-7-0 and noticeably better on the road, with wins at the New York Islanders, Florida and San Jose. They’ve also had one-goal losses at Detroit, Chicago and Tampa Bay and also played well last week in their 2-0 loss at Los Angeles.
“We’ve played a lot better on the road. That’s just finding the right ingredients,” said coach Ron Rolston. “At times here, we try to make better plays for the crowd and play to that whereas on the road, we really don’t care. It’s a road game and if we make a mess of it, we try to find success any way we can. And that’s going to have to be our mentality at home.”
The Sabres were pretty happy with the first two games of the road trip, the shootout win at San Jose and the good performance at Los Angeles.
“And obviously the third game wasn’t what we want to look like,” Ehrhoff said, referring to Friday’s 6-2 sleepwalk in Anaheim. “But the first two games there were a lot of good things, especially the San Jose game. We skated for 60 minutes and that’s what we have to bring every night.”
Rolston agreed with the notion that having a recent look at the Kings just five days earlier should be a big help for the Sabres tonight.
“We were on the road and able to play a decent hockey game,” he said. “Now they’re going to be hungrier too so we have to up the ante. They’re going to be playing a road game like we were. We’re going to have to be simple, execute well and have a lot of effort.”
Ott said the effort will be noticed by the cranky crowd, especially if it starts to produce results that have been missing.
“The fans have acknowledged our work ethic during games by recognizing strong shifts and those type of things,” Ott said. “We just have to be consistent and not be hit or miss. It’s a hard-working community, a hard-working town. We have to bring that work ethic and there will be recognition of that.”