By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
The Buffalo Sabres’ situation is starting to get serious. Really serious.
We’re not talking about the playoffs any more. That ship has sailed.
We’re talking about the whole team’s progress as it tries to climb out of a giant hole this season – one that has surrounded the Sabres for several years.
If you remember, the Sabres had 62 points to finish in last place overall in 2017-18. They will finish ahead of that total this season no matter what happens the rest of the way. Buffalo remained at 69 points after Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to the Dallas Stars at the KeyBank Center.
Earlier I wrote in this space that the talk from a loud portion of the fan base about changing coaches was probably off key. The argument was that the team looked like it would improve by more than 20 points for the season, an acceptable step forward in the grand scheme of things.
Yes, the 10-game winning streak was the worst thing that could happen to the team in a sense, because it got everyone’s hopes up too high. But with Jack Eichel, Casey Mittelstadt and Rasmus Dahlin scheduled to improve greatly in the next couple of years, the Sabres had a path toward better days.
A month ago today, the Sabres were at .500 in terms of wins and losses at 28-21-7. Earning a playoff spot figured to be a difficult task, as the upcoming schedule was filled with good teams. The objective of that stretch was to keep some hope that a postseason berth was within reach, inspiring the team a bit.
Oops. Tuesday’s loss means the Sabres have gone 2-9-2 in their last 13 games. That is a bad enough streak to make impartial observers wonder what’s going on behind the scenes, if anything. It’s been an unacceptable response to a difficult situation.
Let’s put it this way: If the Sabres continue to play like this through the end of the season, practically no one is safe – especially in management.
So don’t think there’s nothing left at stake in the final few weeks of the season because of this collapse. We’re going to learn something about this team and this organization as it reacts to what has become a nosedive after the most promising of beginnings to the season.
As for the game …
Isaac Newton once declared in his first law of motion that an object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion.
Sir Isaac sure knows his hockey.
The Sabres couldn’t solve Dallas goaltender Ben Bishop and the Stars’ defense in losing at home before 17,830. Bishop made it three straight shutouts by blanking Buffalo. He improved his shutout streak to 204 minutes and 20 seconds, which means some adjective need to be invented to say how hot he is right now.
Meanwhile, the Sabres extended their scoreless streak to 137:20. Buffalo had some chances and even hit a couple of posts, but the team is in one of those stretches when pucks are almost predestined to bounce the wrong way.
“I think when you score zero goals, you can always do more,” Jeff Skinner said. “We had some good looks. When you get one, you have to bear down. But he (Bishop) made some good saves.”
The Sabres certainly should have come into the game with a chip on their shoulders. Buffalo had done almost nothing offensively in a loss in Colorado Saturday afternoon, the low point of its season. Tuesday was a chance at some redemption, even if Eichel would be serving the first of a two-game suspension.
The Sabres did better on this particular night – a low bar to hurdle. It just wasn’t good enough to defeat a Stars’ team that played what sometimes is called an excellent “road game” – don’t let the home team get any momentum.
“You can’t fault the way we worked,” Housley said. “We were heavy in the battle. The result was disappointing. If we score in the second (period), it’s a different game.”
“It came down to special teams, and Dallas won it,” Tage Thompson added. “I thought the effort was there. As long as we get chances, we’re doing things right.”
Alexander Nylander had a couple of those chances. The former first-round draft choice was called up from Rochester because of Eichel’s suspension.
“I was close to the net – there wasn’t much I could do,” said Nylander, who played 13:16. “I think (the game) got better and better for me. I got more confidence in each period.”
Buffalo is back home on Thursday to face the Penguins, who was the Sabres’ last victim back on March 1. They probably will need a few goals to do it again.
“Got to stick with it, and they’ll start going in,” Skinner said about the offensive drought.
We’ll see what Sir Isaac has to say about that.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)
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