Struggling Sabres facing possible make-or-break weekend with trade deadline approaching
BUFFALO – A stone-faced Ryan Miller was in no mood to dissect his team’s season-long struggles. The 13th-place Sabres still have 14 games left in what has again become a forgettable year. Technically, they’re not finished yet. When and if the time comes, the goalie will breakdown what went wrong.
“We’re trying to figure it out and battle,” Miller said Friday after the Sabres prepared for the Washington Capitals inside the Northtown Center in Amherst. “It’s not post-mortem.”
They’re getting awfully close to that toe tag, though.
The Sabres, losers of two straight, host the Capitals tonight inside the First Niagara Center and the Boston Bruins on Sunday. With 35 points, the Sabres trail the eighth-place New York Rangers, who have a game in hand, by four points.
The Sabres’ third straight win just a week ago ignited optimism and spirits as they crept to within two points of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Now, fresh off earning a single point from two losses in Florida, their postseason chances have dwindled to just 3.2 percent, according to sportsclubstats.com.
This weekend could seal the Sabres’ fate and heavily influence their plans prior to Wednesday’s trade deadline.
Not surprisingly, some Sabres look and sound agitated.
“I’m frustrated, as you can see,” Miller said.
What frustrates Miller?
“We aren’t consistently playing to where we need to be, myself included,” said Miller, who lost Thursday’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Panthers, the fifth time in eight starts he allowed at least four goals. “Every night there’s something else going on where you just look back, these mistakes on my end, reads, need to be better. It’s just night after night. Just got to clean it up and be consistent.”
Defenseman Robyn Regehr thinks the Sabres’ struggles are “mainly mental.”
“Being prepared, knowing what you have to do and going out there and doing it,” he said. “We haven’t done a good enough job of that this season.”
The responsibility to prepare falls on the players, Regehr said.
“You have to put the work in to warm up physically, to get in shape physically during the summer,” he said. “But some guys, I think they lacked a little in the mental preparation part coming up with a routine that worked mentally for them, and that’s the biggest challenge in this game.”
Naturally, trade speculation is heating up. The Internet became a cesspool of rumors years ago. Some players take it in stride. Others, well, don’t like it very much.
Sabres captain Jason Pominville, who has a limited no-trade clause, bristled at the suggestion he could be dealt, saying rumors don’t affect him.
“It makes no sense to me right now,” a visibly agitated Pominville said. “Again, I have a contract that has a clause in it. I haven’t been asked anything. So I’m not worried about it. I just got to go out there and play, and if something happens, I’ll worry about it.”
Pominville, normally the coolest of customers, believes most rumors are made up by people seeking attention.
“I think you hear your name from people who want more followers on Twitter,” he said. “They’ll come out and say different things. I mean, you hear your name here and there, but where are those things really coming from?
“I think we really just got to worry about playing. There’s going to be rumors every year. That’s the way it is. That’s the nature of the sport.”
The rumors, Regehr said, don’t bother him. They’re part of being an NHL player.
“If you want to know any more about them, I think you’re asking the wrong Regehr right now,” said the 32-year-old, an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Of course, Regehr was referring to Sabres general manager Darcy Regier.
Regehr the player has a no-trade clause, something he waived to come to the Sabres from Calgary in June 2011.
The veteran acknowledged he recently chatted with Regier.
“I’ve talked with him, more mainly just about the team and where we’re at and what kind of things we need to do to improve,” Regehr said. “That was the main part of the conversation.”
But has Regehr started thinking about his future?
“You’re always thinking and preparing yourself for different situations,” Regehr said. “Right now, what I’m really trying to think about is my game. That’s the main focus right now. To say I didn’t think about it a little bit, I’d be lying to you. That’s just the reality of the situation. It’s not something I’m focused on.”
Defenseman Jordan Leopold and forwards Jochen Hecht and John Scott are the Sabres’ other unrestricted free agents currently on the roster.
Defenders are always at a premium, especially in the playoffs. Leopold and Regehr could be coveted as rental players.
Leopold has been dished twice at the deadline –from Colorado to Calgary in 2009 and from Florida to Pittsburgh a year later – so he’s used to all the speculation.
“I’ve been through it enough,” Leopold said. “It’s not always easy. … Everyone has their rumors and philosophies and stuff like that. … Sometimes it can motivate you as well.”