After strong start, Buffalo Sabres going through "adjustment phase"

November, 18, 2008
Suddenly, life isn't so charmed for our Buffalo Sabres. Not sure how many of you have noticed, but after a scintillating 6-0-1 start, the Sabres have since gone 3-5-2. We say "our" because we predicted the Sabres would rebound from last season's disappointment.

We still believe this is a team that should contend for the Northeast Division title with Montreal and Boston; but, right now, they've strayed away from the disciplined game that got them going in October.

"We haven't played as well defensively," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff told before boarding a flight to Boston on Tuesday. "We were pretty committed for probably the first eight games. And then, we've kind of cheated the system and been on the offensive side of the puck a number of times and it's cost us games."

The low point has to be this past weekend, when the Sabres got drubbed 6-1 at home by Columbus and followed it up with a 5-2 loss at Pittsburgh. At 9-5-2, the Sabres are still in good shape, but they've got to go back to the tighter game Ruff preached before the season. The veteran coach has tried to change the riverboat gambling nature of some of his players.

"We went through training camp trying to change a little bit of the mind-set and trying to convince them that playing this way won't hurt the offense," Ruff said. "It's proven out in a quite a few games. But in games where we've tried to run on the other side of the ball and run with it again, then you get down and you don't get the opportunities.

"We're in a little bit of an adjustment phase."

The key stat that jumps out at me is five-on-five scoring, where the Sabres rank 21st in the league. That makes no sense for a team with this kind of talent. They were third in the same category last season.

Meanwhile, key forwards Ales Kotalik and Tim Connolly have been lost to injuries. Kotalik is out two weeks with a pulled hamstring, while Connolly has what the team is calling an upper-body musculoskeletal injury. Both players will be evaluated on a week-to-week basis.

It's too bad for Connolly especially; the oft-injured center was really effective before he got hurt. It's been one injury after another for the talented forward.

Ruff singled out other forwards.

"Derek Roy has really struggled," Ruff said. "Drew Stafford has had a little bit of a tough time. Jochen Hecht is back from a broken finger, but he's not quite there yet.

"We have a few guys that have to get out of their funk and I think as soon as we start to play better in our end, it leads to playing more time in the other team's end."

Up next for the Sabres is a test in Boston against the red-hot Bruins on Wednesday night. Buffalo already had its hands full trying to fight Montreal for the Northeast title, but the Bruins have made it official at the quarter pole of the season -- they're going for it, too.

"Up front with [Patrice] Bergeron back, I thought they were good as anybody in the East," Ruff said. "They're tough to beat. They've got good speed up front. [Phil] Kessel is really coming into form. You've got [Marco] Sturm, [Marc] Savard and [Milan] Lucic is just a monster. I don't think people give this team enough credit. They made the playoffs last year and they're even better this year."

It's early in the season for "big" games, but we're curious to see how the Sabres perform Wednesday night. Was last season an aberration or not?



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