By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
It’s time to get out the hockey quote book, and listen to the words of one of the great coaches in American hockey history, Herb Brooks.
He used to tell Team USA’s players during the long run-up to the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, “You’re playing worse and worse every day and right now you’re playing like it’s next month.”
Yup, that’s the Buffalo Sabres’ situation in a nutshell.
The Sabres lost again on Thursday night at the KeyBank Center. While the “five” under Pittsburgh’s name on the scoreboard determined the final tally, the “zero” for Buffalo’s output is much more interesting – and discouraging for all concerned.
Pittsburgh’s 5-0 victory before 18,680 marked the third straight time that the Sabres have been shut out. The goal-less streak has been extended to 197 minutes and 40 seconds. Buffalo also was blanked three straight times last season, but that was with a team that finished last overall. So if anything, this is an even more astonishing stretch than that low point.
“I think it’s probably different every game,” Kyle Okposo said about the drought. “Colorado was bad all around. Dallas, we just couldn’t buy one. Tonight, we had maybe six really good chances that we didn’t cash in on. We didn’t have a second opportunity, and you’re not going to score a lot of goals like that.”
A negative record
In case you are wondering, Buffalo set the team record for longest period without a goal last season, going 232 minutes and nine seconds. So an eraser will be needed for the record book if the Sabres don’t score by the end of the second period to Carolina on Saturday.
If you’re guessing at this point that the Sabres are a discouraged bunch, you’d be right.
“That’s definitely not the attitude we want to have,” Jason Pominville said. “We want to keep pushing and find a way to get out of it. To me it comes down to pride and battle. Right now it’s not there in the dirty areas.
“For us to be successful, we have to roll lines over and not overextend shifts. At times we’re doing that. We look a little fatigued.”
At such times of offensive problems, hockey players usually are quick to say that the team is trying to make too many pretty plays. Conor Sheary, who probably led the team in good scoring opportunities for the night, agrees with that analysis.
“We have to do a lot of things, but it starts with getting to the net and getting a dirty one,” he said. “We’re on the perimeter and trying to make plays from the outside. We have to get to the net and bang home a rebound.”
It takes two teams to create a one-sided hockey game, and so a mention of the Penguins is necessary at this point. Sidney Crosby had two spectacular assists, and could have had about three more if his teammates had been on target with their shots. Pittsburgh had a 3-0 lead after two periods, and it was obvious at that point that it would take substantially more than 20 minutes for the Sabres to score three goals.
“They (Pittsburgh) are a good example of playing the right way,” Pominville said. “They get pucks where they need to. They can make plays. That’s why they’ve won lately.”
Deeper and deeper
And so the collapse of the past month or so continues. The team has gone 2-10-2 in its last 14 games, and its next four games are against teams with more points in the standings: Carolina, St. Louis, Toronto and Montreal.
It’s a streak that forces everyone to take a good, long look at what’s going on. Just as an example, Jeff Skinner could become a free agent on July 1. He’s in the middle of a career year as Jack Eichel’s linemate. Someone will give him a lot of money in a few months. Skinner apparently likes it here, and is a good situation as a player personally. But if this stretch of poor play by the team continues much longer, no one could fault him for at least looking around this summer and seeing what else might be out there for him.
But summer, at least on the hockey calendar, won’t arrive for a few more weeks when the season ends. In the meantime, Okposo’s frustration hopefully could be echoed by everyone in the locker room. If it isn’t, then the Sabres have more problems than simply playing badly.
“Consistency has been an issue,” he said. “When’s the last time we won back-to-back games? Three months? That’s the definition of inconsistent. I don’t know what to say. We’ve got to find some jam in our game, in our attitude, and the way we approach the game. This was a game that can’t happen.
“Anytime you put on an NHL sweater, a Sabres sweater, you want to wear it with pride. Otherwise you shouldn’t … be here. I don’t believe that, that we’ve lost that. If the guys have, they shouldn’t be here.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB).