Brian Gionta has zero goals this season. ©2014, Dan Hickling, Olean Times Herald

Hapless Sabres searching for answers with season unravelling

BUFFALO – The anger was evident throughout the Sabres’ tense 90-minute practice Wednesday inside the First Niagara Center.

At one point, coach Ted Nolan, whose reeling 2-8 team was demolished 4-0 in Toronto hours earlier, yelled, “Wake the (expletive) up!” Players exchanged words and shouted in frustration. Captain Brian Gionta banged his stick on the glass and demolished it on the bench.

Nolan said the “10-game grace period” he gives his team each season has ended.

“You give them a little bit of rope and maybe some will hang themselves,” a sweaty Nolan said. “What we saw the last 10 or so games we saw that. Now’s the time, taking it easy is over now. We got to work. I’ll take full responsibility for that. Maybe I didn’t push them hard enough. But today’s the day we have to start.

“One of my favorite sayings is, ‘If it’s not working, maybe you’re not working hard enough.’ I was upset the way we worked.”

Nolan’s usually mild-mannered and even-keeled. Clearly, Tuesday’s lethargic, 10-shot effort – one of the worst losses in recent memory – embarrassed him.

“We got to get our battle effort up,” Nolan said after the Sabres prepared for tonight’s tilt against the Boston Bruins. “We got to get our intensity level up. We got to get our enthusiasm up. We got to get our passion up.”

Sabres center Zemgus Girgensons, who’s played under Nolan more than any current player, had never seen him so angry.

Nolan relayed a strong message.

“Nothing given anymore,” Girgensons said. “We got to earn it from now on. If you’re not working, you’re not playing.”

Gionta added: “Everyone knows what needs to be done. We’re just not doing it. It’s mentality. It’s mindset. It’s the culture, and we need to change it.”

Nolan keeps saying the Sabres have a good group of guys, something he repeated Wednesday.

“We got some good characters on this team,” he said. “I’ve never doubted that. Sometimes we get caught up in wishing for things to turn around versus working for things to turn around.”

But the Sabres don’t have many loud, emotional players.

“Some people are very emotional, some are not,” Nolan said. “Right now, we got a quiet group of athletes. They’re not boisterous, they’re not loud. You don’t try to make something that’s not there. But you have to work with what’s there.”

He added: “If we’re quiet, then let’s be a loud quiet.”

Nolan cited legendary Philadelphia coach Fred Shero to illustrate his point.

“He said, ‘You have to learn to win with what you got, or you don’t win at all,’” he said.

Gionta said at times he hasn’t seen enough anger.

“The way we’re playing, guys should not be happy about it,” he said.

The Sabres won’t win much until they start scoring. They have 10 goals in 10 games, a stunning number. They’re the first NHL team since the 1936 Chicago Blackhawks to score 10 or fewer goals in the first 10 games, according to Sportsnet.

Yes, it’s been 78 years since a team began a season so anemically.

“If we play the way we played last night, I’m quite sure we’ll break some more of those records,” Nolan said. “If you don’t shoot, you’re not going to score. If you don’t get people in front of the net, you’re not going to score.”

The Sabres, fresh off a franchise-low shot total, have been blanked four times in the last six games.

“A lot of us are not doing enough to get the puck in the net,” struggling Sabres winger Matt Moulson said. “We have to compete a little harder and work a lot harder to make sure we’re willing that puck in.”

The Sabres’ top threats have given them little or no offense.

Gionta, Moulson, Drew Stafford and Chris Stewart have all scored zero goals. The four wingers have a combined 641 NHL goals. Winger Cody Hodgson, the Sabres’ leading scorer last season, has one goal and two points.

Moulson’s usually a huge threat, having scored 135 goals since the start of 2009-10.

“I’m quite sure once Matty gets his first one, he’ll get his second and third and go on from there,” Nolan said. “Right now, we’re all fighting the puck.”

The defense has zero goals and two assists all season.

“I think we just got to find ways to do the right thing,” Gionta said. “We’re losing too many battles, too many turnovers. We’re just not taking care of what we need to.”

The Sabres won battles Saturday in San Jose, helping them upset the Sharks 2-1.

“We’re the type of team, we have to work,” Nolan said. “If we don’t work, we’re in trouble. We’ve proven that. But if we do work, we proved it in San Jose. If we work, things could happen.”

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