A Building Deflated

I’ve attended three games in the past two weeks, which is a lot for me. I’m sure it’s preaching to the choir when you’re saying this on a hockey blog, but there’s nothing like watching hockey live and in person. From your couch, hockey doesn’t translate as well. It tends to just look like a bright, white mess, from one camera angle, with the occasional awkward cut to the camera in the corner that’s only there to capture someone running into the glass. In Buffalo we’re lucky to have Rick Jeanneret’s familiar voice to spice up the action, but once you’ve become used to seeing the game in person, it’s tough to go back to the tube.

But the disturbing part of attending these three recent games was that everything I had grown to love about the live hockey experience seemed to have disappeared. The "Let’s Go Buffalo" chants were weak and uninspired. Not even Sabretooth beating his bongo from the 300 level could get people into it. During the game action, the arena was practically silent. You could actually hear other people’s conversations about winter vacation plans, and little Suzie’s school play. And the best part of it all, the explosion of the crowd when a goal is scored, was practically dead. It might as well have been a high school soccer game. Sure, people stood up, cheered and clapped for a few seconds, but it seemed more because they felt obligated to do so, rather than being genuinely pumped up. In a nutshell, the feeling of excitement I used to get while watching a Sabres game in the flesh has completely vanished.

So what’s the problem? Do we, as Buffalo fans, prefer being the underdog? We were labeled by many as cup contenders before the season started. Do we prefer being the underappreciated squad that needs to earn their respect? Or is it the fact that maybe it’s just really hard to like this team? I think it’s cliché to say we like to root for those "blue collar" type of players here in Buffalo. To me, it’s much simpler than that. All we ask is that players are held accountable – that you leave everything out on the ice, and you never give up. After watching this team squander lead after lead at home, it’s looking like they’re the exact opposite of that. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy to root for these young players we have up with the team right now. Players like Zack Kassian and Brayden McNabb are playing for their NHL careers. Perhaps guys like Stafford, Roy, and Leino need to remember what that feeling was like.

There’s a constant sense of impending doom sitting in your seat at the First Niagara Center these days. On Tuesday night, you could feel that the crowd was just waiting for Ottawa to tie the game in the third period. Then, when they scored to end the game less than a minute into overtime with the Sabres blowing their defensive assignments at such a critical juncture, the crowd slowly filed out, heads hung. Sure, some booed, but most just silently made their way through the concourse holding a feeling they’ve come to expect these days.

There’s plenty of time left in the season, and the Sabres still have a record of 15-12-3. The problem is, they’re 6-9-3 in their own building. Are they nervous to perform in front of their fans, with such great expectations? Quite frankly, if that’s the case they shouldn’t be in the NHL. To me, they just seem indifferent at times…like ice skating robots. And if we’re going to go with the theme of holding people accountable, then it’s time to start pointing fingers. Calvin did a great job of assessing Jason Pominville’s role in keeping this team focused, but it’s time to look at the man standing behind the bench. I’ve always considered myself somewhat of a Lindy Ruff apologist, but I’m beginning to change my tune. For someone that’s been practically untouchable for over a decade, perhaps it’s time for the axe to drop. I’m not saying let Lindy go right at this moment, but if he can’t feel the heat under his seat, then he must be made of stone.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again. Perhaps it’s time for a shakeup, if that’s what it will take to wake the players up. To be honest, I’m just running out of reasons for the struggles. In the end, I just want hockey to be fun again.