BUFFALO – General manager Kevyn Adams has a theory on the Sabres’ home woes this season.
“I feel I’ve asked enough questions that I have a handle on this,” he said during Wednesday’s end-of-season news conference.
The Sabres compiled a ghastly 17-20-4 mark at KeyBank Center. Only four NHL teams – the Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets and San Jose Sharks – earned fewer home wins. The Montreal Canadiens equaled the Sabres’ meager total.
What do those other teams have in common? They have the league’s lowest point totals.
The Sabres, of course, enjoyed a 91-point season, missing the playoffs by a whisker. Their terrific 25-13-5 road mark was better than seven playoff teams.
In 2021-22, when they finished with just 78 points, they had a 17-18-6 home record. If they were even decent at home this season, they would’ve secured a postseason spot.
“It’s a little bit of a head-scratcher, I’m not going to lie to you,” Adams said of the Sabres’ home struggles. “I think our play on the road was fantastic overall and we really won some tough games in tough buildings, and just the way we played.”
Adams believes at times the pressure to perform in front of the home fans overwhelmed his team, one of the NHL’s youngest.
“We have a really, really impressive group of young players that care,” he said. “… When they go on this ice at home, they do not want to let these fans down. And I think they sometimes got tight almost, and we played a little away from our identity. We just didn’t look like ourselves at times. We were squeezing it a little bit, or we were trying too hard at times. I honestly believe that.
“And I do think our guys, something we talked about internally, they took it to heart a little bit when we came out and we struggled and there was some booing going on. They are young players, and it really bothered them, because they care.”
Not surprisingly, the Sabres played better in front of large crowds, feeding off the energy fans created. They had a 13-9-3 mark before crowds of 15,000 or more.
The Sabres averaged 15,567 spectators over their 41 home dates, up from a league-low 9,998 last season. Fans of the opponent, however, often packed the building. Sometimes they appeared to equal or outnumber Sabres supporters.
“I can’t wait for the day where this building is full every night, where I don’t see thousands and thousands of jerseys from other teams, and it’s just filled with the fan base I know we have,” Adams said. “And I know our players want that. And I think all that ties together. And I think as our guys mature, too, they will understand that you just go play at home. You don’t have to put on a show.”
Adams took some responsibility for the Sabres’ home struggles, saying he possibly “pushed it too much over the last couple of years about us having to earn everything.”
“These guys heard me say it all the time,” he said. “We have to earn the trust, earn the respect back. They took that to heart, which I love. But maybe almost tried too hard. It’s a theory. I can’t prove it. But that’s just how I feel.”
The Rochester Americans, who open their best-of-five Calder Cup Playoff series tonight on the road against the Syracuse Crunch, boast some terrific scoring depth.
Nine players scored at least 14 goals. Seven registered at least 40 points. Rookie Jiri Kulich’s 24 goals led the AHL affiliate. Lukas Rousek, who recently played his first two NHL games, recorded a team-high 56 points.
“That’s the unique part, the collectiveness,” coach Seth Appert said of his Amerks.
Kulich, 19, and Rousek, 24, are two of the Sabres’ top forward prospects.
Since Adams took over as GM in 2020, they’ve been signing fewer veterans for Rochester. There are still experienced players on the roster, mind you.
But Appert said the organization’s not going to bring in players who “block our prospects.”
“Part of development is habits and accountability and practicing the right way,” he said. “Part of development’s also opportunity. And so we aren’t built to have a guy with 80 or 90 points that is out there first on the power play all the time.”