Hot in Buffalo, and we ain't talking wings
February, 7, 2013
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com
Darcy Regier has dialed up his GM counterparts this week with his Buffalo Sabres squad collecting only three wins in 10 games to begin the season.
But there are no magic pills lying out there right now in what appears to be a soft trade market.
"I’ve talked to some GMs the last few days," Regier told ESPN.com Wednesday afternoon. "It’s a pretty quiet market right now. A number of teams have very small things they want to do, quite honestly, with the hope that whether it’s with their players or our players, they’re going to get them on track because of their previous history of them being a lot better. That kind of leaves it where we’re saying, 'Let’s touch base again later in the week or later on.' Teams sitting in positions similar to us are hoping to turn it around with the group that they have and then in the event they don’t, looking at the trade market. But as you said, it’s pretty soft right now."
And so while Regier works the phones, he’s hoping the answer comes from within the roster he assembled. The 3-6-1 Sabres, who began the season 2-0, host the rival Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night in what amounts to a must-win event just a quarter into this shortened season.
It starts with playing a little defense. The Sabres are dead last in the NHL in goals against, allowing an average of 3.70 a game.
"We have to focus our efforts on the defending side, more on stopping goals than scoring goals, and that’s from the goaltending position on out," said Regier. "It’s a team effort. It hasn’t always been the same reasons but they’re linked. The good thing is that, that’s something Lindy’s good at, fixing the defensive side of the game. That’s work we have to do and that’s how we’re going to get better."
Lindy Ruff has been the head coach in Buffalo since 1997. A growing number of Sabres fans -- growing further from last season, when Buffalo missed the playoffs -- would like to see a change behind the bench. But that’s not the plan, Regier said.
"We’re working hard to get this turned around after 10 games," said Regier, who was signed to a contract extension last month. "And we’ll continue working on it as a team. I have full confidence that the work Lindy and I will do will get it done."
According to the Buffalo News, Wednesday was slated to have been a day off but Ruff asked the players to come in for a video session followed by practice.
How can this team be so bad right now?
We asked that question to an Eastern Conference team executive: "When you’re depending on Miller to always save games, you take that for granted, I think," he said. "The defense group, on paper, should be better than it is playing right now. They haven’t played well back there. The other thing is with this short season, teams play so many games in a short period, when you get on a bad streak the losses really pile up in a hurry. A slump is really magnified. One bad week really jumps out at you. Whatever the reason, that team just isn’t clicking right now. They should be better than this."
Olympic MVP Ryan Miller obviously has to step up; his .906 save percentage is 21st among NHL netminders, while his 3.11 goals-against average is 31st.
Hot goaltending is the fastest cure for a slumping team, but on top of that he’s the undisputed leader on this team. He needs to lead, and knowing him, he will snap out of it.
"We’re counting on it," said Regier. "And I say that knowing Ryan, knowing how competitive he is and what his skill set is. I’m confident in that regard."
On defense, an NHL scout told me before the season that Buffalo's blue line was "too soft."
It’s a comment I passed on to Regier.
"I probably would disagree with you on the physical side," Regier, always classy, said politely. "It’s very difficult to separate it right now individually and say it’s you or it’s you, or it’s this defense group or that pairing, it’s very team-related where we’ve had just short periods of consistency but way too much inconsistency, and most of it is on the defensive side. The reality is that you can’t pin it all on the goalie, you can’t pin it all on the defense and you can’t pin it all on the forwards.
"It’s a team effort. It’s something where we collectively have to get out of it."
The pressure’s on in Buffalo. Time to win.