By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
It all looked so familiar.
Remember all the way back to Sunday, when the Bills played in Green Bay? Remember how they fell behind early, and then never gave their fans much hope that a comeback was possible? And remember how they didn’t score a point in 60 minutes?
The Sabres more or less played the exact same way on Thursday night, and the result was just about as exciting. A Buffalo team was blanked again, with the Sabres losing to the Bruins, 4-0, in the KeyBank Center.
Phil Housley’s reaction to the game might have been the most interesting part of the night. The Sabres coach was about as fired up as he was all of last season when he reviewed the contest.
“Disappointed? In front of a good crowd? You’re dang right I’m disappointed,” said Housley, who really did say “dang” instead of some more colorful words that might have come to mind.
Then thinking back to last season, the now second-year coach added, “We are not going through that again.”
Not their night
It was one of those nights where the Bruins took control early, and nothing was going to change the outcome of the contest. The Sabres just weren’t clicking on offense, making the wrong decision in certain situations.
“Maybe there was too much thinking,” new captain Jack Eichel said. “We worked hard, but we didn’t seem as crisp and as clean as we wanted to be. At times the puck management could have been better.”
The most obvious example of that came early in the contest, when Eichel had one of those pass-or-shoot decisions when he came down the right side. The path to the goal was clear, but he chose instead to try a pass to linemate Jeff Skinner … which was broken up. If the pass worked, Eichel would have been a magician. Instead, he came away second-guessing himself.
“Absolutely,” he said about shooting. “I’d like to have that back for sure. I probably should have shot.”
Such decisions look easy from the stands, but another veteran admitted that it’s not that easy.
“That’s something I’ve struggled with my whole career – shooting the puck,” Kyle Okposo said. “You have to shoot. That’s how you score goals. That’s how you win games. We need to do a better job of getting pucks to the net.”
“Our game needs to be better,” Housley said. “We overpassed the puck way too much. That’s not our game. … Too many times (goalie Jaroslav) Halek saw the puck clearly.”
At the other end, the Bruins played as if they had something to prove after a one-sided loss to the Capitals Wednesday night. In particular, Brad Marchand made three big-time passes to set up the three Boston goals. Marchand is something of a pest on the ice, but when he is concentrating on offense he’s an extremely skilled passer. Marchand finished with four assists and a plus-three.
By the time the score reached 3-0 before the second period had elapsed, most of the enthusiasm in the crowd – evident during the pregame ceremony and player introductions – had more or less disappeared. It wouldn’t be fair to say the Sabres were loudly booed off the ice by the entire crowd when they headed for the locker room after 40 minutes. It would be fair to say there were enough boos to indicate that the reservoir of good feelings about this season’s beginning had suffered some drainage.
“I don’t blame them,” Okposo said. “We have to prove it to them. They only know what we put on the ice at 7 o’clock. They don’t know what’s been transpiring the rest of the time. We need to play better.”
“We just have to move on,” goalie Carter Hutton said in his Sabre debut. “You don’t get much time here to dwell on losses.”
Yes, it’s only the first game. No, rational people don’t expect an instant turnaround from last season’s disaster. Yes, a young team should get better as the season goes along.
But this was no way to start a four-game homestand that the team hopes would give everyone a booster shot of confidence as the 82-game season began. Okposo has studied the numbers.
“You’ve got to start fast in this league,” he said. “If you are four points out of a playoff spot on November 1, it’s an absurd amount of teams that make the playoffs – something like seven percent. That’s the reality of our league. We can’t fall back. We have to learn from this.
“It’s not going to be a rosy road. It will be tough. We have to do things better.”
They’ll try to do so Saturday against the New York Rangers.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB).