The 2009-2010 version of the Buffalo Sabres reverted to many of their maddening traits from last year in losing their first game of this season 4-2 to the Atlanta Thrashers Saturday night in HSBC arena in Buffalo.
The Sabres were the NHL's only team undefeated in regulation heading into this game. But the feeling here is that their flaws were masked by good luck and, more importantly, by Ryan Miller playing out of his head.
Against the Thrashers, the Sabres rested Miller and played backup goalie Patrick Lalime. In addition, they were without their best goal scorer, Thomas Vanek, who missed his second game with an upper body injury.
To put it bluntly, the this year's Sabres have same problem as last year - they have trouble putting the puck in the net. They make good plays, throw the puck at the goal, but for whatever reason, their hands turn to stone when it comes to firing the puck past the opposing goalie instead of into his chest.
When a fat rebound sits there, more often than not they fan on it, or weakly redirect it under the prone goalie's pads.
On so many occasions, the Sabres make the opposing goalie look like a Vezina trophy winner. The only Sabre with the goal scorer's knack of seeing an opening and firing the puck there with pinpoint accuracy is Vanek.
Once again, the Sabres out-shot their opponents. But whereas the Thrashers' sharpshooter Kovalchuk made the most of his chances, scoring on two of five shots, the Sabres put 42 shots on Hedberg and only managed to get two past him.
Most disheartening was the Sabres' power-play. Although Buffalo did manage one power-play goal in five opportunities, they squandered a full two minutes of a five-on-three advantage.
Derek Roy is a giveaway machine on the power-play, repeatedly skating himself into positions where he has only one passing option, and then coughing up the puck so the opponents can ice the puck.
In this instance, the Sabres gave up control of the puck and were forced to waste time retrieving the puck from their end five times during their two minute man advantage.
But the absolute low point of this game came in the third period after Buffalo had fought back to pull within one, down 3-2 with three and half minutes remaining.
Just fifteen seconds later, former Sabre Max Afinogenov streaked down the left side, undressed Sabres rookie d-man Tyler Myers with a nifty out-in move, and roofed the puck over Lalime's shoulder to ice the game.
Sabre fans have seen Afinogenov make that rush countless times as a Sabre, skating like the wind, only to groan as the puck bounced off his stick at the last second or he shot the puck wide of the goal.
But not tonight, not playing as a Thrasher against the Sabres. Tonight, Max looked like Ovechkin, while our guys had all the scoring touch of Andrew Peters.
Whether it's because Coach Lindy Ruff shakes up the line-ups too often to develop scoring consistency, a simple lack of talent, or just the curse of being from Buffalo, the Sabres appear to remain the same offensively challenged team they were last year.
They will go as far as Ryan Miller takes them.