This past Saturday night, the Buffalo Sabres opened their home doors to the 2009-2010 NHL season. HSBC Arena was packed (albeit with a slew of Canadians fans). The team, including revered rookie Tyler Myers, started out strong, scoring in the opening minutes of the game with a power play goal by Tim Connolly. They would go on to out-shoot their opponents 35-17, including 11 to 1 in the 3rd period... and lose 2-1.
It goes without saying that this is not the sort of start the Sabres, or anyone else, was hoping for. But for me, the reasons for that might be different than yours.
You and your friends might be talking about that blasted bounce off the boards. If not for that bounce, maybe the Sabres pull it out. Maybe they win it in a shoot-out. Maybe...
And yet, there they were talking about the lucky bounce that cost them the game and not the 34 shots that failed to get past the goal line.
"That's just a tough game," Sabres center Tim Kennedy said. "We really controlled the play. They didn't have too many chances, then they got that one bounce and the game's over."
Granted, they were going up against a goaltender who had just made 43 saves two nights earlier, but doesn't this seem a little too familiar? The Sabres outplay their opponents for the majority of the game, but it fails to be reflected on the scoreboard and in the waning moments of the game, it's the opposing team that gets a bounce, a penalty or some other break they need to take away a win from us? This can no longer be viewed as simply "bad luck." Just missing your bus is bad luck. Going on vacation in Florida and getting rain every day is bad luck. Not making the playoffs since the loathsome Drury/Briere exodus has NOTHING to do with luck and just about every knowledgeable Sabres fan will tell you so.
Obviously, it's entirely too soon to start saying the season is over, but this is exactly the sort of post-game self-pity this team does not need.
"It's just disappointing because I think we played a great game," Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller said. "It was outstanding."
Stop saying that. Stop saying, 'Boy we played really well, we just didn't win.' Just stop it. I think I speak for a fairly large demographic of Sabres fans when I say we're tired of it. You can't pat yourself on the back after losses anymore.
Face facts... You took twice as many shots as your opponents and scored half as much.
The goaltender on the other side of the ice? He didn't let in a single shot after those first 3 minutes and he's 7 years younger than our netminder.
Our quote-unquote star player, Thomas Vanek? He accounted for ONE ... count it, ONE of the 35 shots on net.
Again ... it's way too soon to start saying all is lost. We could very well go on and make the playoffs this season. But we need to start focusing on what no one on the team will talk about...
Our franchise goaltender isn't treated like, paid like or thought of like one of the best in the league. Our star player is a prolific scorer, but seems to have little to no interest in being a leader (Jason Pominville & Paul Gaustad were named 'alternate captains' for home games). Our coach, who has endeared himself to us over the years for his toughness and willingness to call out his players, is starting to make far too many excuses for them.
"We did a lot of good things. We just didn't score," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We didn't give up much, but we had some opportunities we didn't take advantage of."
And raise your hand if you're one of those people who like to make the argument, "Well if not for Ryan Miller's injury, we would've made the playoffs last year." Ok, so say we sneak in as a 9, 8 or even 7 seed... now raise your hand if you think we make it past the first round going against the Devils, Capitals or Bruins...
...you, in the back ... c'mon ... put your hand down.
Good teams get by on hustle and luck. Great teams make their own luck. Not so good teams spend their early start to the offseason talking about a bounce here or a break there. We all know it. So let's stop talking about it.
These Sabres have a whole new season to get into a whole new frame of mind. They did outplay the Canadians for most of the game and if not for that bounce, and Moen's rugby scrum goal, they probably walk out of HSBC Arena with a win. But I think most Sabres fans would agree with me when I say that if the demeanor in the locker room hasn't changed, then this season will most likely have an all too familiar ending.
But what do I know? Maybe the Sabres are a sleeper team ready to surprise the league all over again. Perhaps the Sabres would like to continue to let their mouths, rather than their games, speak for them. In that case, I've got some cliches they haven't used to freshen things up...
Talk is cheap. Excuses are like assholes. Winning cures all.
Just do it.