What's worse than losing?
Not only are the Sabres losing, but they’re boring. The Sabres perceived lack of emotion is astonishing. Hockey is a sport inseparably tied to emotions, but the Sabres seem to be doing their damndest to separate the two. The fans feed off the players and vice versa. We first want our team to win and we secondly want to be entertained and feel excited. One need only watch any NHL game that doesn’t involve Buffalo, to see what’s missing.
As fans, emotion is all we’ve got. We don’t get paid to watch and we’re not playing, so what is there? Our teams are here to entertain us and make us feel good about our city. The feel good part comes with winning and winning has been elusive for the Sabres this season. There are a few theories as to why the Blue & Gold have failed so far. Some critics point to Lindy Ruff not being able to motivate his players. I’m not sure if it’s completely Lindy Ruff’s fault, but it is painfully obvious that these players are not motivated.
In a game against the Leafs (Nov 6th) that was televised on Hockey Night in Canada, the Sabres managed a 3-2 shootout win. The analysts spent most of the night pointing out chronic mistakes that were likely symptomatic of the Sabres poor start to the season. One telling comment was made late in the game. If I may paraphrase it went something like this, The Sabres and Leafs have played a close hockey game, but they’ve somehow failed to make it exciting. These are guys who make a living analyzing and watching hockey games. They’re the cream of the crop and they noticed the Sabres lack of excitement, even in a game the team won. They also commented on Lindy Ruff and how he looked almost resigned to what was happening. I doubt that is true, but when your team is 4-9-2, and you look asleep on the bench, people are going to notice.
Having the privilege of the NHL Center Ice hockey package, I watch many non-Buffalo games. Last week I tuned into Tampa Bay vs. LA Kings, currently two of the NHL’s best teams. It was like watching a different sport. The game was lightning fast, hard hitting, and exciting. The game ended 1-0, but it still kept my attention for three periods. I don’t care about the Kings or Lightning, but the players made me care. Why?, because it at least appeared that the players cared.
Players are in it for different reasons than fans. It’s their job, they get paid; while fans sit, watch and hope our team wins. It doesn’t matter so much if Ryan Smyth actually cares about the city of Los Angeles, because his sacrifice on the rink demonstrates that he cares about winning hockey games. The people of LA derive pride and entertainment value from his hard work and sacrifice.
In the first period of Lightning v Kings, Dustin Brown was drilled from behind into the end boards, but came back shortly and played the rest of the game. That bodily sacrifice was noticed and respected by teammates, fans, and announcers. Brown has built his reputation as a respected intense player and clean hitter; in the same way that Mike Peca was for Buffalo. By taking that brutal boarding and coming right back, he reinforced his reputation and excited fans. The LA fans were sitting there screaming, ‘You can’t stop us, even with dirty hits!’ He plays the game in a way that excites fans and he also happens to put the puck in the net quite often.
So what do we have in Buffalo? We’ve got Derek Roy who gets hit and whines to the referee. We’ve got Patrick Kaleta who hits people and waits for them to punch him in the face so he can draw a 2 minute penalty. That completely turns me off as a fan and makes me ashamed rather than proud.
I hate to keep coming back to the Jason Pominville hit, but it is part of the illustration. This Sabres team treated it like it wasn’t their problem; like the league should take care of it. No! , in Hockey you exact revenge on the rink! Whether it’s right or wrong, the Sabres have a reputation as a soft team, and incidents like the Pominville hit serve to emphasize that. Worse yet, it shows a lack of caring for a teammate. Fans care about their friends and family, and they want to see the team that symbolizes their city do the same.
“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” – Henry Russell “Red Sanders”Winning is a cure-all. When the Sabres were winning in ’05-’06 and ’06-’07 they had a similar lack of team toughness. The difference of course was in their style of play which was electric. The Sabres regularly scored 5 and 6 goals, and had comebacks from 4 goal deficits. It didn’t matter that they were a bit wimpy because we were beating the pants off of teams on the scoreboard.
The Ted Nolan Sabres teams were physical but not super talented. The Sabres of the mid 90’s often substituted violence for wins. In 1995-96 Buffalo had 2195 Penalty Minutes and Matthew Barnaby led the NHL with a contribution of 335 PIM’s. Barnaby also scored 15 goals that year. That team finished next to last place in the division but it was one heck of a season. You couldn’t count on a win, but you could count on some fireworks. With players like Brad May, Bob Boughner, Rob Ray, and Matthew Barnaby there was never a dull moment. That team also had Pat Lafontaine, Derek Plante, and Randy Burridge, so there was some offense; just not enough to win games.
Winning is the ultimate goal of any team and it shouldn’t be stated that violence is an ample substitute. If given the choice of my team winning a game or winning the fight, I’d choose winning the game 10 times out of 10. Lindy Ruff is in charge of winning games and he should do so any way he sees fit. The problem is he’s not winning. Compounding the losing is the lackluster style; a style that we as fans perceive as a lack of effort and emotion. Emotion is all I have; I’m not the coach, I’m not a player; I’m just a fan. As a fan I’m bored to death with this Sabres team.