What gives the Sabres rights to ‘unacceptable efforts’?
Jack Eichel opened up at the season-ending press conference this past April, stating rather bluntly that some of his teammates are simply happy to be in the NHL. And it wasn’t the first time he let loose on that subject.
Putting aside the argument about whether or not the future $80 million man should have been publicly calling out his teammates, there seems to be a recurring theme here.
After doing a reboot with a new general manager, coach, and half a roster of players, check out some of Monday’s comments from the Sabres locker room after a 6-2 embarrassment to the New Jersey Devils in front of yet another displeased crowd at KeyBank Center.
“I just think our effort was unacceptable,” Phil Housley said. “Our resilience has to be better. We’re faced with adversity, and we’re not facing it the right way.
“You can draw up a game plan, you can have strategy, but it starts with the work.”
“We don’t look very fast, we don’t look like we’re winning the battles to be successful,” Evander Kane said. “[New Jersey] was a good example of what hard work and compete and team speed looks like.”
“There’s many things we have to do differently,” Ryan O’Reilly said. “There’s not one thing, it’s piles of things. The main thing I control is myself.
“The last three games I’ve been useless, and it’s not good enough.”
Unacceptable effort. It starts with the work. The opponent is what hard work and compete level look like. It’s in large part Ryan O’Reilly’s fault, per Ryan O’Reilly.
We have literally half a new team, but it’s like nothing has changed.
To average Sabres fans, the folks who scrape together their hard-earned money to patronize this overpriced product, this chronic malaise that seems to have infected the organization has to be nothing short of mind-boggling.
What did the Sabres do to earn a couple straight games of not being ready to play? When the Pittsburgh Penguins were humiliated last week 10-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks, the lack of panic coming from that city was telling. It’s a championship team, and those types of efforts aren’t a habit. Sure enough, they shut out the Nashville Predators 4-0 in their next game.
In Buffalo, there are too many stretches where it’s the same old cycle. Declare the importance of the game, get outworked and outskated, lament afterwards about how they didn’t work hard enough, and then declare the importance of showing up and working hard the next game. It’s like that one Seinfeld episode you’ve seen at least 30 times, but way less entertaining.
Sure, there are occasionally some nice efforts and wins mixed in during these stretches as well. But why does it always seem that when a team appears to be putting forth “unacceptable efforts” during Sabres games, it’s always the Sabres?
What we’ve witnessed over these first three games, with the exception of the first two periods in the opener against Montreal, should be raising some huge red flags. You bring in a new general manager and head coach who are highly regarded in hockey circles, you overhaul the defense, and everyone is on a clean slate. Starting out with seven bad periods in regulation out of nine played, after all the excitement and anticipation coming out of camp, is just plain absurd.
Monday was a low point. The Devils were predicted by many to finish in last place in the Eastern Conference, yet they appeared to be much faster than a Sabres team that looked like they had cement in their skates. Making matters worse was what seemed to be a lack of focus.
There were numerous examples of this.
– Nathan Beaulieu, known for his smooth skating, runs out of ice, stops at his own blue line and launches a Hail Mary pass through the air that gets intercepted and brought back the other way for a scoring chance. Then there’s his awful giveaway right in front of his net that led to a New Jersey goal.
– With the Devils on the power play, Taylor Hall dumps the puck in behind the Buffalo net, then goes all-out full speed from the point and darts right past Jake McCabe and behind Rasmus Ristolainen to retrieve the puck before they can even get a hand on him. Another scoring chance.
– With the Sabres on the power play, Kyle Okposo gets the puck across the blue line, has a nice lane to shoot but mysteriously slows down and drops the puck across to a surprised McCabe at the other point. The puck sails behind McCabe and the attack is stalled. No scoring chance.
Chad Johnson, who was left out on an island during his 40 minutes of play, correctly pointed out the issues were there even going back to the first game when it was generally accepted that the Sabres played well against Montreal.
“I think there are still areas we have to address [going all the way back to] that first game,” Johnson said. “Obviously you saw the errors we made in the first game that we got away with, and then the second game they took advantage of them, and the third game they took advantage of them, too. I think right from the start, there needs to be more improvement here.”
You’d like to think the players are just saying these kinds of things, about not working or focusing hard enough, to hide the fact that they just lost to a better team. But for this game it wouldn’t be true. The Sabres were scored on by the likes of Brian Gibbons, Stefan Noesen and Jesper Bratt (twice). Housley’s theory of unacceptable effort sure seems to have some legs.
With this game came the usual arguments from some fans about line combinations. You can keep O’Reilly with Okposo, split them up, move Reinhart to wing, put him back with Eichel, switch Beaulieu and Marco Scandella, give Ristolainen fewer minutes, or any other creative idea you can come up with.
Nothing of that sort matters in these types of games. After all the debates about systems and lines, Housley said it best. It starts with the work.