In one word: poorly.
We may only be six games into the season, but I can picture Sabres fans everywhere already hitting the panic button. Following years of mediocre hockey, which then transitioned into "tank years," Buffalo fans were given hope after an enormous lineup overhaul. All summer long, dreams of playoff games danced in our heads. Acquisitions such as Ryan O'Reilly, Kyle Okposo, Evander Kane, Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges, Cody Franson, Zach Bogosian, Dmitry Kulikov, and Robin Lehner, combined with high draft picks such as Jack Eichel, Samson Reinhart, Zemgus Girgensons, Alex Nylander, and Rasmus Ristolainen, were supposed to be leading the team towards the promised land starting this season. Also, don't forget the addition of coach Dan Bylsma.
We may only be 7% of the way into the season, but to put it mildly, the team and/or the coaching stinks.
The Sabres blew a three goal lead, on the road, after four days of rest, to a team the played the night prior, on Tuesday. Tonight, at home, they spotted the Wild a three goal lead, that Buffalo had no answers for. Sorry folks, but that is not the characteristics of a playoff team. I waited patiently, yet eagerly, to see a competitive Sabres team on the ice the season. I am not talking about just the summer - I am talking YEARS. What a disappointment.
Joel Eriksson Ek got the Wild on the board just five minutes into the first period. Buffalo gave him free range to just enter the zone with ease, applied no pressure, and got burned. The shot was from a tough angle, and Sabres goalie Anders Nilsson played the angle well, but he made a perfect shot into the very top left corner of the net. This ended up being the game-winning goal. The game was over, only five minutes in.
Ten minutes later, Jason Zucker made the Buffalo defense look silly, splitting right between both Sabres defenders , and pocketing a goal to give Minnesota a two goal lead. Cody Franson is so slow these days, that a slug painted with an old Sabres logo might beat him.
To begin the second stanza, Buffalo gave it's fans six solid minutes of excitement. The team opened the period with 15 shots in those first six minutes, including amazing chances for Okposo, Reinhart, and Nic Deslauriers. As is the trend, Buffalo could not capitalize on any of the opportunities. The Sabres then regained their defeatist mentality, and converted back into into intertia mode for the remainder of the game. No passion. No energy. Boring.
Ryan Suter and Mikko Koivu added third period goals for an eventual 4-0 win for the Wild.
I understand that the Sabres are without Jack Eichel. This is not an excuse. Many teams have found ways to win while missing one of their top players. Evander Kane is also out, but how much is he missed? He was largely ineffective for Buffalo last season.
This team has seemed slower than their competitors so far this season. Buffalo struggles to bury prime opportunities. There is no urgency, drive, or fire among the lineup. No passion. Boring to watch.
I am also starting to wonder if Dan Bylsma is the issue. The team does have plenty of skilled players to be competitive, even if they are a step slower than their rivals. If I recall, the knock from analysts in the past was that Bylsma lacked adaptability. Could not make the necessary adjustments mid-game. Nor tweak the approach towards different opponents. Sticks with the original plan, even if it is not working.
I watched Buffalo blow a lead the other night. Many of us saw it happening, yet, I didn't notice any adjustments from Bylsma. We watched the Sabres fall behind tonight, but I failed to see any change in how Buffalo approached the situation, at all. Is Bylsma the main problem? In the first period alone, I watched the Sabres defense attempt maybe eight stretch passes through the neutral zone, to forwards who were already covered by Wild players. Why? Offensive zone entry continues to be a problem as well, and nothing different seems to be tried.
Yes, the season is young, but something different needs to be done.
1. How will Anders Nilsson play in his second straight game?
Not good enough. The Sabres limited the Wild to only 22 shots. Yet, it is hard to win, when your team scores no goals.
2. Can the Sabres show the willpower to get and subsequently hold a lead?
Buffalo couldn't even find the back of the net, despite 38 shots on goal. Anyone attending the game should have been offered a refund by moneybags Terry Pegula.
3. Will either team show up ready to play the first period?
Minnesota had 13 shots on goal, and only 9 more for the remainder of the game. They also potted 2 goals. Buffalo had 8 shots on goal, their lowest of any period. Minnesota was ready, the Sabres were not. The first frame ended up being the only one that mattered.