Whether you like Ted Nolan or not, you have to admit he’s done a great job as the Buffalo Sabres interim head coach. He’s taken the Buffalo Sabres from being a nearly unwatchable, insufferable team and turned them into a hard working and fun to watch team once again.
The Sabres may still sit 30th and Ville Leino may still be goal-less but whatever Ted Nolan is selling the Sabres players in large part are buying. I think it’s fair to say that the Buffalo Sabres aren’t exactly the most skilled team in the NHL, as the level of skill on the current roster is lacking compared to that of a playoff bound team, but they have heart and work-ethic. Not having skill is one thing, but not working-hard is another and there is no excuse for the latter.
Nolan has managed to get the Sabres to work hard during games and in practice, something they weren’t during under Ron Rolston. He
has changed the philosophy of this Sabres hockey team. The players no longer feel like their spot in the line-up is a given and the rookies have to work to earn ice with the Sabres.
He’s managed to unite the team through hard work and slowly rebuild the bridge with the fans, by providing them with an actual hockey team that is willing to compete on a nightly basis. Nolan’s message is simple, if you’re not willing to work hard you can enjoy the pressbox while another player fills your spot.
For the most part- they still have their off nights- the Buffalo Sabres hockey team no longer looks like a peewee team, they look like a team hungry to win against other NHL teams.
We’ll use last night’s dramatic game as a benchmark for the change Nolan has made. Down numerous players due to injury and illness, with reinforcements overseas for the Spengler Cup, the Sabres dressed just 16 players- 2 below the norm. Then half way through the second period Drew Stafford got himself ejected and the Sabres were down to just 15 skaters; Jhonas Enroth almost dressed as a forward for the third.
A team should not win an NHL game when they have just 15 skaters, let alone a team like the Sabres who were missing their leading scorer in Cody Hodgson. It was a rocky start to the game but Ryan Miller stood strong and Zemgus Girgensons alongside Tyler Ennis and Steve Ott, decided they weren’t going to just hand this game over.
The team made an effort all night long even when they wen’t down 1-0 on a controversial goal. They didn’t give up, they buzzed around Mike Smith all night generating chance after chance after chance.
Then came OT, the Sabres had gotten a point and most player’s gas tanks were hovering over empty. The Coyotes had that extra step and crisp passes, while the Sabres just couldn’t keep up. Still, inspired by a Jamie McBain break-away in OT where he used every last ounce of energy- you could literally see how hard he was working for the breakaway- the Buffalo Sabres found a way.
Using the old trick of placing the puck inside the goaltenders equipment the Sabres dragged out the W and #ButtGoal on December 23rd 2013, will go down in history.
After the game did you see how genuinely excited each member of the Sabres was? From Ryan Miller and Jhonas Enroth, to Tyler Ennis and Zemgus Girgensons, there wasn’t a play not smiling as the Sabres went to salute the crowd following their last game before Christmas.
The point is, the old Sabres team coached by Rolston wouldn’t have busted their butts to drag out an unlikely win with just 15 skaters. They would have lost, likely by a large margin, and then blamed it on the man power lost.
Ted Nolan has instilled a strong work-ethic amongst this team and as a result the Sabres are playing better hockey and are starting to really grow that team chemistry they were lacking. A team that works hard every night, no matter the opponent or circumstance is a team that will be respected and loved by the fans.
Thank you Ted Nolan, for changing the mood of the Buffalo Sabres. I for one truly enjoy watching this new Buffalo Sabres hockey team filled with work-ethic, passion and emotion.