BUFFALO – Nine games into what is quickly becoming the worst season in the Sabres’ 43-year history, the hapless team appears finished.
In Thursday’s feeble 3-0 loss to the Vancouver Canucks, the Sabres (1-7-1) showcased more of what makes them arguably the NHL’s worst team: terrible starts, a porous defense and no goal scoring.
So much for building on Tuesday’s 4-3 shootout triumph over the Islanders, the Sabres’ only win this season.
Where’s their frustration level?
“It’s high. It’s no fun,” Sabres co-captain Thomas Vanek said. “Every guy in here trains all summer long to be successful. To have the record we have is disappointing.”
By the 1:49 mark Thursday, the Canucks had already pumped nine shots on Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. They had 11 at 3:02. Finally, the 16th beat Miller at 14:53.
“They kept rolling and rolling and we couldn’t find an answer,” Vanek said.
But for all their wretchedness this season, the Sabres, mostly thanks to some fine goaltending from Miller and backup Jhonas Enroth, have managed to stay in games.
Somehow, the Sabres almost got back into Thursday’s contest.
Down two goals 53 seconds into the third period, Vanek zoomed down the right wing and appeared to roof a shot by Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo. But replays showed the puck hit crossbar.
“I thought it crossed the inside bar and then the pole,” Vanek said. “Obviously, I was wrong. Ryan gave us a chance. It would’ve been 2-1.”
The goal didn’t count, and the Canucks iced the game nine minutes later. Some in the announced crowd of 18,374 fans inside the First Niagara Center then began chanting “Fire Darcy” again, something they started Monday for general manager Darcy Regier.
His Sabres are still winless in regulation and at home. They’ve already been blanked twice and have just 10 goals this season.
“We’re frustrated,” Sabres coach Ron Rolston said. “But we’ll get through it.”
Incredibly, after getting outshot 19-7 in the first period Thursday, opponents have a 127-74 shot advantage during the first period this season.
Don’t the Sabres need to change their game preparation?
“Apparently, we do,” Rolston said.
Why do the Sabres start so poorly?
“I’m not sure,” Vanek said. “We got to better. We knew that’s a good team, a puck possession team. Early on, we talked about just to get it deep, not to make any mistakes. Before you know it, they have 10 shots on net.”
No one, Vanek and center Cody Hodgson said, is coming to bail the Sabres out of their mess.
“There’s no one up from the minors or anyone that’s going to come up to give us a boost,” Vanek said. “I think this is our team to go with. We just got to find a way to have one, two, three lines to generate chances and start scoring some goals.”
Hodgson added: “It’s all on us. We want better starts. We want to stay out of the penalty box. Those two things right off the bar we didn’t do. So we rely on the goalie every night to save 30, 40 quality shots. We can’t win that way.”
Miller, who made 31 saves and has already faced a whopping 231 shots in six games, didn’t speak after the game.
Hodgson attributes the Sabres’ supreme sloppiness to their poor passing.
“Our passing is a foot off and … we turn the puck over every time,” he said. “We just basically give the puck back to them. They come back at us and we’re playing defense all night. So it’s a tough way to play the game and win.”
Chris Higgins, Brad Richardson (short-handed) and Ryan Stanton scored for the Canucks.
Meanwhile, 19-year-old center Mikhail Grigorenko, fresh off his second healthy scratch this season, skated just 6:43 on Thursday, mostly between John Scott and Cody McCormick.
Rolston said the prospect isn’t better served playing in junior. Remember, Regier said in the summer Grigorenko would be sticking with the Sabres.
But why skate a prized prospect on the fourth line?
“That’s where he falls in into the lineup,” Rolston said. “(Johan) Larsson is playing good hockey for us, and he competes and he’s playing hard.”