BUFFALO – There is no rock bottom with the 2017-18 Sabres, a team quickly becoming the worst in the franchise’s 47-year history.
Just when you think they’ve hit it again, they implode, give another effort more feeble and embarrassing than the last one.
Take, for example, Saturday’s miserable 7-1 loss to the upstart Dallas Stars, who annihilated the Sabres all afternoon. After falling behind early, they showed little interest in competing, getting outworked in nearly every facet.
The capacity crowd of 19,070 inside KeyBank Center booed the Sabres off the ice when they ended the second period down 6-1. As the final seconds ticked down on the home team’s 35th loss this ugly season (11-26-9), the smattering of fans who stuck it out booed again.
“There’s nothing to say, there’s no excuse, and to not be sharp, not be prepared, that’s a hell of hockey team over there,” Sabres defenseman Josh Gorges said. “To even be close to them, you got to be at your best – mentally, physically. When you’re not, this is what happens.”
The Sabres, of course, have said similar things following some of their other blowout losses. So why isn’t rookie coach Phil Housley’s message getting through?
“You can only send a message in so many ways,” a seething Housley said. “It comes down to individuals on the team, they have to make a decision to play the right way, and when teams push, we have to respond with a better push.”
Housley said the Sabres pushed and “got the period back” after falling behind 5:03 into the tilt.
“We come out and we’re playing pretty good hockey, we take an undisciplined penalty,” Housley said of winger Benoit Pouliot’s slashing call.
At one point early, the Stars held a 10-1 shot advantage. Housley really thinks the Sabres played “pretty good” early?
“Would I have liked to have seen a little more fight and battle?” he asked. “Yeah, but I don’t think we were playing bad until it got to the point of 3-0.”
That point came 6:25 into the second period, when Stars winger Mattias Janmark scored his second goal of the day.
Sabres winger Sam Reinhart responded on the power play at 8:54, but Stars captain Jamie Benn scored 38 seconds later, giving Sabres goalie Robin Lehner an early exit. Lehner spent the rest of the period wearing his mask on the bench as backup Chad Johnson tended goal.
“We give up the third one, and then we deflated, you could sort of see it every puck battle, every competitive situation they won,” Housley said. “They had a big push and we didn’t respond the right way. That’s why it became 7-1, and at that point, it’s just missed coverages, it’s just a lack of attention to detail … and the battle that we needed. We didn’t rise to the occasion.
“Give Dallas credit, they came to work and we didn’t. We’re not going to compete in our game, in front of our home fans, which is very disappointing and quite embarrassing, we’re going to compete tomorrow in practice.”
The Sabres competed in Thursday’s solid 4-3 road loss to the New York Rangers, a game they erased three deficits. But they have a maddening penchant for regressing after any sort of success.
“It’s a broken record, it’s frustrating,” Sabres winger Kyle Okposo said. “We’ve got to find a way to work. It shouldn’t be a hard thing to do, to come to work and work. That’s it. That’s what we needed to do and we just didn’t do that.”
So, in a season full of low points – remember, the Sabres got shut out three straight games in the fall – was Saturday the lowest point for Housley?
“It just really tells me a lot about the individuals on our team and what kind of direction we need to go moving forward and what buttons to push,” he responded. “We’re playing a lot of good hockey teams right now, they’re in playoff contention or fighting for a playoff spot. That’s what I want to see our team play, that’s what I want to see our team respond.”
Gorges said the Sabres must “look in the mirror.”
“How many years have we been talking about this, trying to turn the page and trying to figure out what it takes to win?” he said. “No one’s going to make us do it. We have to make that decision.”