Buffalo Sabres fans: I really enjoy movies. Currently, I own right around 1,000 titles, and my collection is ever-growing. As a result, I often find myself reminded of memorable dialogue. Tonight, watching the Sabres struggle to get anything going against the Pittsburgh Penguins, I was reminded of something the late Heath Ledger’s character The Joker said in The Dark Knight:
Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it.
If you watched the game, you know where I’m headed. Tonight, the Sabres resembled a team with no discernible game plan . . . unless their game plan was “make sure you look like a dog chasing cars at all times,” in which case, mission accomplished! All game long, it felt as if the Sabres were chasing the Penguins, reacting instead of attacking, playing back on their heels – however you want to put it. For the second time in three games, the final score doesn’t indicate just how badly the Sabres were outplayed by their opponent. This game could have been 10-1 if not for Jhonas Enroth, so word of caution, Sabres fans: next time you think about booing a Sabres goaltender, shut your mouth. You’re wrong.
Where to begin? Let’s start with the obvious: for a team that was hustling all over the ice last game, putting pressure on the Ottawa Senators’ defense and goaltender Craig Anderson and sprinting back to defend their own end of the ice, the Sabres showed only flashes of determination and intensity. Were they tired out from last night’s high-paced affair? Did the Penguins take the wind out of the Sabres’ sail by scoring twice in the first period? Were the Sabres’ rookies more interested in getting autographs than actually competing against some of their idols? Who cares? The Sabres looked like the JV team who foolishly challenged the Varsity squad to a scrimmage and got blown out in the process. Check out these videos of the first and second goals the Penguins scored tonight.
Notice a common theme? Namely, the “Eh, I don’t feel like getting my body on that guy” approach to protecting the front of the net? Folks, everyone who watches hockey knows that you cannot just play defense with your stick when opposing players are going hard to the net. My son is 8, and I’ve already conditioned him to know that the answer to the question, “What do you do when you’re on defense and there is a player in front of your goalie?” is “Get a body on him.” There’s no excuse for watching an NHL team give up two goals and countless other scoring opportunities because they were not committed to getting a body on an opposing player (although the second goal was during Rasmus Ristolainen‘s shift, and obviously I am more willing to forgive him since he has so many things yet to learn).
Another area that is currently killing the Sabres (aside from their non-existent power play, which I have already discussed here and really have nothing more to add to the conversation): atrocious passing. Against the Detroit Red Wings, the Sabres struggled to make good passes. Against Ottawa, Buffalo struggled to make passes. Against the Penguins tonight . . . ah, forget it. It’s only going to depress me to type it a third time. It’s almost comical, watching the Sabres fail to connect on passes when the Penguins are zipping all over the ice, hitting tape nearly every time they pass the puck. Can someone on the Sabres coaching staff sneak into a winning team’s practice, to see what they do? Because the Sabres ain’t doing it!
I guess I could keep pointing out negatives – the phrase “Buffalo’s gotta win those types of battles” will become a drinking game soon, for example – but so far it is pretty clear that the Sabres’ approach to this season is to take a pretty raw collection of talent and toss ‘em in the fire to see who turns golden brown, and who melts under the pressure. There are some players who are performing admirably – Jhonas Enroth had a stellar game tonight, Zemgus Girgensons continues to try to play 1 – vs. – 5, and Johan Larsson always manages to make an impact, which means his talent is being wasted on the fourth line – but we were all warned before this season began that there was going to be some suffering. I’d say being outscores 7-2 through the first three games counts, wouldn’t you? My advice right now: watch the rookies, and pray that losing so badly doesn’t make them want to flee the 716 as soon as the getting is good.
Congratulations to Thomas Vanek scoring his first goal of the season! There’s your silver lining!!!