The day of reckoning is upon us

As soon as the schedule came out, you looked for it. You looked for the opener, and it was home. Then you looked to see when the first game against Boston was.

Tonight, the demons await.

Ever since Milan Lucic brazenly ran over Ryan Miller in TD Garden, the cloud hanging over the franchise still has yet to dissipate. It’s not just they haven’t won there since that 6-2 loss, including two late season losses by scores of 3-1 and 4-3 that surely could’ve improved the Sabres’ playoff chances. It’s not just that they’re in the midst of a four game losing skid in a shortened season right now.

It’s that this franchise had all their faults exposed in one night and have yet to prove that they’re past it.

That game showed a lack of strength amongst the Sabres, not only to stand up for each other, but to avoid being rattled by it. Ryan Miller wasn’t the same for months. The skid the team went on was a major factor towards another year outside the top eight in the East.

And most notably, the changes to the roster since have all been with that game in mind.

It wasn’t long until they decided it was time for alleged-Lucic-in-waiting prospect Zack Kassian to fill that role in the NHL. They brought him up and saw what few had been trying to point out all along, that he wasn’t that guy. And then Marcus Foligno came up and filled the role better, so Kassian was dealt while his stock was still high.

And they traded Paul Gaustad, who was supposed to be the leader on the ice that night, but stood by idly by. He was gone at the deadline. It was clear that whatever toughness the Sabres thought they had, wasn’t enough. Or at least wasn’t the kind they needed.

It continued over the summer, with Steve Ott being acquired for talented center Derek Roy, and the “enforcer” John Scott being signed as a UFA.

There was no skirting around what this was supposed to be. This was supposed to make the team a group that didn’t allow things like the Lucic hit from ever happening.

So far, that hasn’t worked out well.

Sure, when Drew Stafford stepped up and went after Philadelphia’s Scott Hartnell in the opener for burying Tyler Ennis into the boards from behind, we all thought things would be different. Here was a guy, who didn’t regularly drop the gloves, take care of it in the name of a teammate.

gerbeBut then in Carolina, with the Sabres 2-0-0 on the season, Nathan Gerbe, fresh off IR with a back injury, got drilled in the numbers into the glass. Tyler Myers, the franchise defenseman who has played anything but like one, who was on the ice when Lucic ran over his goaltender, stood up for his teammate by skating up to the perpetrator and meanly tapping him on the legs with his stick before standing over him. Meanwhile, Gerbe gets up and skates to the scrum, gets thrown against the glass by the referee, Dan O’Halloran. Even the officials aren’t afraid of the Sabres.

The Sabres went on to lose that game. And the next night, to the same team. And then two days after that in Washington. Which brings us to Tuesday, where Buffalo battled the Maple Leafs, who they had defeated at ACC just a week before.

Sabres pest Patrick Kaleta gets drilled from behind into the wall. Defenseman Mike Weber, fresh out of the press box, steps in and battles him to the best of his abilities. Great. But there’s a root problem to the incident with Kaleta, who was sent to the hospital by the hit.

The hit happened.

That hit happened, along with the hits to Ennis in the opener and Gerbe in Carolina. Sure, they’re going to happen from time-to-time. But the “toughness” brought in that was such a key missing ingredient to the team’s success hasn’t changed anything.

Patrick Kaleta received that hit skating on a line with John Scott. He was on the ice. An opponent went ahead and delivered a hospitalizing hit on one of your players with the most feared guy you thought you could find mere feet away. There was no hesitation from Toronto’s Mike Brown. Or Carolina’s Drayson Bowman. Or Scott Hartnell. They still went ahead and did what they did because there was no fear. Because for every time you might have to fight a Mike Weber or Drew Stafford, you’ve got just as good of a chance as getting tapped on the shinpad by Tyler Myers.

The flaws have yet to be fixed. Yes, Steve Ott has been a fine addition and brings more than physical play. Yes, there are other guys who have been playing more physical. But what is wasting a roster spot on John Scott, the man of one career goal, doing for this team? Is this the kind of team who appears that their sole purpose is to win the Stanley Cup?

No. They’ve been getting pushed around, and even worse, beaten on the scoreboard. It’s one thing to be a passive team when it comes to physical play, because that can work when you’re winning. And the team isn’t winning. In a 48-game season, extended losing streaks are going to decide whether you have a shot in hell at the playoffs or are picking between Seth Jones or Nathan MacKinnon.

Which brings us back to tonight.

The Sabres go into Boston to face the demons. They will not have Patrick Kaleta on their side to draw the ire of the Bruins. The Bruins are going to pick someone else to go after. If that’s Miller, what’s to stop them?

Is it fear of repercussions physically? Why would they be scared when no one else has been?

Is it losing? Well, the Sabres haven’t been doing a good job of instilling that fear by their past week of performances.

Talk all you want about how it’s still early in the season, how there’s plenty of time left. That’s not the point. This team could lose tonight and still make the playoffs, sure.

But tonight is where we need to see hope that the turnaround of culture, of the franchise, might actually be happening. This is the rematch against Iceland in D2.

If John Scott comes out and fights some Boston slob and that’s it, and the Sabres lose, nothing has changed. We lost in Boston last year, too. If the Sabres pull out a win tonight, and no fights or rough play happens, then cool, we know our team can beat them on the ice.

But if Boston comes out gunning tonight, and run the Sabres over physically, and this team doesn’t respond to the physical play with a win, or at least show they can compete with a roster comprised like this against a good team, they’re not done yet.

Goals win games, not sandpaper and for sure, not fights. You haven’t been getting enough goals to win, and you’re wasting roster spots on guys who can’t score. Give us a reason to think there’s a method to the madness. Show us that this can work.

Otherwise, this is just a shitty, average-to-below-average team full of wimps.

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Posted on January 31, 2013, in Sabres/NHL and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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