Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen celebrates Jeff Skinner’s overtime goal Dec. 30. ©2024, Micheline Veluvolu

Sabres’ long home stand could decide playoff fate: ‘The time is now’

BUFFALO – Don Granato kept going, talking for two minutes on perhaps his least favorite topic, the Sabres’ dreary home record.

Discussing his team’s struggles at KeyBank Center clearly struck a nerve with the coach. Any explanation, he reasoned, could be taken as an excuse.

“I don’t even like talking about it,” Granato said after the Sabres prepared for Tuesday’s game against the Seattle Kraken, the start of a season-long six-game home stand.

Still, Granato went on. Sure, there’s a psychological component to playing so poorly in your own building.

“But we’re not getting to that aggressive play,” said Granato, whose Sabres are just 8-9-1 at home this season. “You can tell it doesn’t make me happy.”

The Sabres’ disappointing campaign – they’ll hit the halfway mark Tuesday on just their second two-game winning streak all year – can be analyzed a thousand ways. The root of most of their problems can be traced to their wildly inconsistent work ethic.

Granato said he wants his players to “get in the moment” and “get more competitive.”

“When we struggle at home, we don’t shoot,” he said Monday. “When we don’t shoot, we’re not competitive enough, we’re not willing to work enough. And you can see those patterns. … If we want to go out and compete, we’re pretty frigging good. When we have struggled at home, we probably didn’t compete as hard.

“It’s clear as day when you’re not attacking the net and puck on entry, is there a guy driving? Is there a shot mentality? When we’re not good at home, we’re passive, we over-stickhandle, we try to make a play, we’re not direct, we’re not hard, we’re not shooting pucks, we’re not willing to track pucks.”

Their home woes are nothing new. Last year, they compiled a weak 17-20-4 mark. This year, only three teams have mustered fewer wins.

This home stand, which includes three games this week and next, could decide if the Sabres make a second half playoff push or DNQ for the 13th straight season. If they can win four or more contests, then perhaps they can make a climb.

Captain Kyle Okposo called the Sabres’ opportunity over the next two weeks “phenomenal.”

“There’s nothing else you want to try to get back in the race than a home stand,” said Okposo, who returned to practiced Monday but will miss a third straight game Tuesday with a lower-body injury. “We know that the time is now, and the guys in the room know it, you can feel it. It’s kind of time to put up or shut up, and I’m kind of excited to see how the guys respond.

Their inability to rattle off victories – they haven’t won more than two straight games since April – has them mired in seventh place in the Atlantic Division and 14th in the Eastern Conference.

Right now, the Sabres trail the New Jersey Devils by six points for the final wild card spot. Entering Monday’s schedule, pegged their playoff odds at just 6 percent.

Of course, some players might have no idea where the Sabres rank, which is good. Granato said they’ve become better at blocking out the standings. As they’ve gotten healthier – Granato mentioned the return of winger Jack Quinn, who missed the first 32 games with a torn Achilles tendon – they’ve begun simply focusing on the present.

“We’re in the moment more,” he said. “That’s where we need to be. It’s not for us to be forecasting or projecting or whatever. It’s for us to be performing. And sometimes your attention is diverted to that end. We’ve had a better focus now.

“The standings are irrelevant. What’s the date today? It’s irrelevant today. What’s relevant is your next game because that’s the only thing you have control over.”

The Sabres have seized control of their last two outings, improving to 9-10-3 on the road this season by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 on Saturday and the Montreal Canadiens 6-1 on Thursday.

Despite their poor overall standing, the Sabres, who fell one win shy of cracking the postseason last year, have offered some reasons to be optimistic.

Their goaltending tandem of rookie Devon Levi, 22, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, 24, has recently been their backbone. Top center Tage Thompson has found a groove during the last three weeks, compiling five goals and 10 points in the last seven games.

“With Upie and Dev, they both played really well, it adds confidence, and it helps,” Okposo said. “Try to make sure that the details of our game are good, but I think our top guys understand the situation and they’re capable of getting it done.”

4 thoughts on “Sabres’ long home stand could decide playoff fate: ‘The time is now’”

  1. I respect Don Granato . When the team plays the way he’s taught them they can/have beat everybody. He’s pin-pointed perfectly there issues. Are the players not listening? I know they love their Coach. Hey boys, you are playing a game you love, making lots of money, yet you give a loser’s effort. Wake up!
    Personally, I’d have them in at 6 am everyday skating ladders until they drop, and the Coach’s message sinks in.
    Hey Sabres players, you are on the brink of getting your Coach fired and you all play like you don’t care!!!
    Wake up!

  2. All Sabres fans ever ask for is a winning effort.If you give 100% the fans will back you forever.
    Coach is right. Their compete level sucks .” Grow a pair Boys!” It’ s suppose to be a contact sports.

    1. It’s crazy they can win against top teams, then lose to mediocre teams. Their only consistent attribute is their inconsistency. Time is up on excuses, almost everyone is healthy, the fans deserve 100% effort. The booing is somewhat shocking on the face of it, but once you think about it, they are paying good money to see a competitive team. It’s like going to see a blockbuster movie, but all they do is show cartoons. The talent is there, the work ethic nit so much.

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