The excitement about the Buffalo Sabres that was as high as the clouds at the start of the season is now basically at ground level. Last season's Northeast division championship and a very impressive preseason had every Sabres' fan pumped up. However a 1-4-1 record now has Sabre Nation with its collective finger as close to the panic button as it can get.
Nearly every fan has their reasons for Buffalo's dreadful start. "The power play is worse than last season", "their defensive play has been shoddy", "Tim Connolly's career is done", "Regier didn't add enough new pieces to the roster." Some of these statements are true and some are definitely not.
Sniper Thomas Vanek and second-year defenseman Tyler Myers are two reason why the Buffalo Sabres have stalled out of the gate. Vanek has scored a total of exactly ZERO goals and Myers is a league worst -7. Both of these players need to get it together quickly.
There is one reason that is being thrown around by not only fans but also by sports writers in Buffalo, that I disagree with 110 percent. That reason being that the players do not listen to head coach Lindy Ruff's message. To quote the aforementioned Ruff from an interview earlier this week on WGR 550 in Buffalo, "That is a load of crap." I couldn't say it better myself except that I would have used some more colorful language.
The thought that the Buffalo Sabres are not hearing or listening to Lindy Ruff's message is way off. Ruff, who has been behind the bench in Buffalo since 1997, is the best coach in the NHL and in my opinion, one of the best coaches in sports today. One of the main reasons for this is because Ruff gets his message across every time and therein lies one of the reasons for the Buffalo Sabres sluggish start.
Year after year, season after season, bench boss Lindy Ruff gets his team ready to compete. Ruff has had loads of success as the coach of the Buffalo Sabres. During Ruff's tenure, which has seen him win 484 games, there have been over 150 coaching changes in the NHL. Ruff has taken the Sabres to four Eastern Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup Final.
The players listen to every word that comes out of Ruff's mouth. The problem is that sometimes they take him too seriously. In the past when Ruff has spoken about playing better defense the team ends up going through scoring slumps and when he preaches more offense the Sabres seem to forget about their own end of the rink.
Prior the start of this season, Lindy Ruff said over and over again that the Buffalo Sabres were Stanley Cup contenders. This statement is not false. I believe that they were Stanley Cup contenders last season also. I understand that things went wrong and certain players disappeared in the first round loss to the rival Boston Bruins. However, injuries to Jochen Hecht, Tim Connolly and Thomas Vanek were just too much for the Sabres to overcome. Entering this season the Sabres had all of three of those players back, the world's best goaltender Ryan Miller was returning, Calder Trophy winning phenom Tyler Myers was back, and several new pieces including cup winning veteran Rob Neidermayer were added. So its understandable to see why Ruff thinks that they are Stanley Cup contenders and this group of Sabres understood it also.
However, from their slow start, it seems like the players thought they already had the Cup won. They believed the message that Ruff was feeding them and they rolled into Ottawa on opening night and beat the Senators. That feat has not happened much over the past few seasons. That win got them brimming with confidence as they returned home to HSBC Arena for a four game homestand. They wanted to impress the Buffalo faithful and they got away from the system that Ruff preaches. Things started to go downhill quickly as the Sabres were trounced by the New York Rangers 6-3 in the home opener. The Sabres have not recovered from that loss yet. They looked much better in a loss to the Chicago Blackhawks last Saturday, but a loss is still a loss. It is certainly not time to panic yet but there is reason to be concerned.
This group of Sabres needs to show that they have matured by taking what Lindy Ruff says and watering it down a bit in their minds. When Ruff tells them to tighten up defensively he does not mean to stop creating offense, when Ruff talks about scoring more goals they can not forget that they have their own net that can be scored on as well, and when head coach Lindy Ruff says that the Buffalo Sabres are Stanley Cup contenders it does not at all mean that their names are already on the thing. It means that Ruff believes in them and that if the Sabres put in the hard work each and every night and a little luck accompanies them that the Stanley Cup is a realistic goal.
So wake up Sabres and start playing the way that led you to a division title last season, so that us fans can put the panic button back up on the shelf to collect some more dust.