Sabres seeking identity to salvage NHL year
TORONTO - Reuters
The Buffalo Sabres’ Nathan Gerbe (C) is pushed off the puck by goalie Jonas Gustavsson (R) and Carl Gunnarsson (L) of the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second period of their NHL hockey game in Toronto. The Sabres suffered a defeat to the Maple Leafs. REUTERS photoThe Buffalo Sabres have a sense of urgency about them after stumbling through the first half of the season despite lofty expectations that came when a new owner poured money into the small-market franchise. A handful of pricey acquisitions during the offseason, which was unheard of under the team’s previous owners, sent notice to the 29 other National Hockey League (NHL) teams that the Sabres were serious about contending.
But after a decent start to the 2011-12 NHL season the Sabres were hit with injuries, at one point playing without eight regulars, and their failure to win consecutive games in two months has them five points out of a playoff spot.
“Our playoffs basically start now,” said Sabres captain Jason Pominville. “It’s going to take everybody playing out of character and doing things that maybe they don’t normally do to get us in and get on a roll and we expect to do it.”
Buffalo reached the midpoint of the 2010-11 campaign with the same 18-18-5 record as this season’s team but went 25-11-5 over the rest of the season to clinch the seventh of eight playoff spots in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
When Terry Pegula was introduced as the Sabres’ new owner last February he said their reason for existence will be to win a Stanley Cup, something the franchise has not done since its inception in 1970.
The Sabres acquired defensemen Christian Ehrhoff from Vancouver and veteran Robyn Regehr from Calgary while signing free agent centre Ville Leino from Philadelphia.
But a slew of injuries, sloppy defense, sub-par goaltending by former All-Star Ryan Miller and a lack of scoring from others has left the Sabres on the outside looking in for now.
“We’re still working to find our identity,” said Derek Roy.
Through the first half of the season the injury-plagued Sabres had a total of 185 man-games lost to
injury, 88 more than they had at the same point last year.
“Every team goes through injuries,” said Miller. “We’ve had our fair share and for whatever reason we didn’t make up for the fact we were down personnel by grinding out a few more wins and that’s on us.”