BUFFALO – The NHL trade deadline hits in eight days, and based on the feeble effort given in Saturday afternoon’s ugly 4-2 loss, some Sabres are waiting for the phone to ring.
Clearly, some players want to get the heck out of town.
Against a Los Angeles Kings team that had lost three straight games, the Sabres showcased nothing early on, falling behind 1-0 while getting outshot 19-8 in the first period.
In the second period, the Kings scored on three straight shots, opening up a 4-0 lead.
“Slow start, for sure,” Sabres winger Jason Pominville said. “Look at this team’s history, their past (two Stanley Cups since 2012), where they are in the standings. They were dialed in early, we weren’t.”
Sabres coach Phil Housley said: “I don’t think our guys were ready to play. We talked about it yesterday and we talked about it this morning.”
Predictably, the Sabres, like so many times throughout this trying season, turned it on late with the pressure off, making a lopsided game look a little more respectable. But don’t let the two-goal margin fool you.
The Sabres have stumbled early in games all season, often losing them before they’re 20 or 30 minutes old. Despite making their starts a point of emphasis, Housley and his staff haven’t seen any improvements.
“It’s really disappointing,” Housley said of the poor starts. “I thought we were making some good strides. I thought we had a little blip in Ottawa (Thursday, a 3-2 overtime loss), but it’s unfortunate because that was a good example of how to check and play the right way. When we did have opportunities to execute, we didn’t execute.”
Housley said the Sabres prepared “the same way we do every game.”
“It’s up to the individual to take the information that’s given to them and use it,” he said. “But at the same time, you have to know that the L.A. Kings and the position they’re in just on this road trip, you have to know they’re going to come with a push.”
Housley, of course, said he doesn’t believe players are waiting to get dealt. But boy, some looked totally checked out, simply going through the motions before the crowd of 18,632 inside KeyBank Center.
“I hope everyone cares,” said Pominville, a proud veteran who, based on his effort, still cares. “I hope no one’s just kind of waiting for that deadline. This is a time where you get away from everything, you go out there and you play, you work hard and battle. Sometimes we don’t and I don’t get it, I don’t understand.
“If you want to play in this league and play for a while and be successful, that’s where it starts. Sometimes we’re not doing it and it’s led to us being where we are in the standings.”
That’s last in the Eastern Conference with only 45 points and 30th in a 31-team league. The Arizona Coyotes, the NHL’s worst team, are only one point behind.
Incredibly, the Kings ended an eight-game losing streak in Buffalo, winning their first game here since Feb. 21, 2003.
The Sabres almost escaped the first period scoreless, but Sabres goalie Robin Lehner allowed a soft goal to Michael Amadio at 11:32.
Anze Kopitar then scored at 12:02 and 16:06 of the second period. Amadio, who had scored twice in his first 18 NHL outings, tallied again 16:06.
At one point during the second period, when the Sabres misfired on a pass, a loud thud was heard from where Sabres general manager Jason Botterill sits during games.
When the second period ended, frustrated fans booed the Sabres off the ice.
The Sabres’ late rally – two defensemen, Marco Scandella and Rasmus Ristolainen, scored – should offer them little consolation for an awful 40 minutes.
Incredibly, Scandella jumped into the glass after scoring 30 seconds into the third period.
“Just trying to get some life,” Scandella said. “We’re a good team in here and I just wanted to spark a little bit of a fire.”
Lehner, who got pulled after 40 minutes, said the 17-win Sabres dumped pucks and followed their structure in the third period.
“When you dump pucks and you go and you play hard, you finish checks, you see what happens,” he said. “In the first they did and the second they did.”
Why do the Sabres suddenly turn it on late in games?
“We have nothing to lose, I guess, at that point and we just go out there and work,” Pominville said. “It shouldn’t be that way. If you want to win games and be successful in this league, you got to find a way to get a good start and maintain that for 60 minutes. At no point in time on their side they probably felt any heat early on.”
These days, Pominville said, everyone is probably a little on edge.
“But this is two, two and a half hours where you just get away from everything and play,” he said. “You can’t be sitting here waiting for something to happen. If you are, you’re not in the right business.”