By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
“I’m here to report tonight that the State of Sabres Nation is not good.”
No one connected with the Sabres started their postgame remarks that way after the team was thoroughly dismantled by the Colorado Avalanche, 6-1, on Tuesday night.
They didn’t need to do so. The team’s actions in the previous two and one-half hours spoke louder than words. While the State of the Union speech in Washington reportedly showed how divided we can be, Republicans and Democrats came together with one voice in the KeyBank Center to boo their favorites – at least the ones who stuck around.
If last week’s loss was a firm signal that the playoffs would not be coming to Buffalo in two months, this defeat looked like a way to show just how far the Sabres are from competing with the league’s best. It was reminiscent of some of the losses from two years ago, when teams like Winnipeg and Toronto skated circles around Buffalo’s roster.
“The final result is what it is,” coach Ralph Krueger said. “It’s a slap. You need more time than I’ve had to digest it. We’re very disappointed.”
Good start, at least
The night didn’t start as if disaster was around the corner. Buffalo had the better of the play for the initial minutes of the period. But the Sabres had nothing to show for it.
Then came a little adversity. A scrum around the Buffalo crease resulted in the puck disappearing from view. It popped up on the stick of Samuel Girard, who was by himself on the right side. He found some open net to begin the scoring.
“The first 13 minutes, we were looking at a really good hockey game,” Krueger said. “The first goal-against was the kind of goal I’ve never seen before, where all six guys are looking somewhere else. It was very strange.
“Then the next 20 minutes – truly unacceptable.”
Yup. Andre Burakovsky converted a two-on-one break 45 seconds later to make it a 2-0 game. Sam Reinhart tipped in a Jake McCabe shot with less than a second left in the period to make it a competitive game again – or so everyone thought.
“We had some momentum coming into the room after the goal, but we flattened out,” Conor Sheary said. “We gave them too man odd-man rushes – two-on-ones, three-on-twos – and with a team with that skill, they capitalized on their opportunities.”
“They have players who can capitalize on mistakes,” Reinhart added. “We were way too flat coming out for the second period.”
The Avalanche seemed to come in waves throughout the second period. Nazam Kadri’s goal a minute into the period restored the two-goal lead, and the lead just ballooned from there. Colorado’s speed and passing were simply overwhelming, and they ran the lead up to 6-1 before 13 minutes had elapsed in the period. It was a clinic.
“They were just ruthless with their chances,” Krueger said. “They were lethal.”
Goalie Carter Hutton was excused for the evening after the fifth goal, with rookie Jonas Johansson cleaning up in his first NHL game. Good luck, kid. He gave up one goal on 14 shots.
“That’s the way it goes,” Johansson said. “It’s something you look forward to since you were a kid, but it’s not the way I wanted the game to go.”
At that point, it didn’t take an Iowa caucus-sized wait to figure out who was called as the winner of this one. The Avalanche and Sabres could have let the clock run for the final 27 minutes, and few would have complained.
“Tonight is not where we wanted to go,” Reinhart said. “The energy had been high going in. It’s all coming down to the players. The systems and game plans are set by the coaches to give us the opportunity for success. What I’m trying to preach is that guys need to demand more of themselves.”
Rasmus Ristolainen added, “If we know something is wrong or different, we’d fix it. We had a good practice yesterday. I thought everything was in the right place, but obviously it wasn’t.”
The Sabres sometimes have shown an elastic quality after a punch of adversity this season. That will be tested by this, the worst loss of the home season. Sheary hopes this year’s team has the maturity to handle it, as previous Sabre teams in the recent past haven’t done so well in that department.
“We have a lot more experience than what we had last year,” he said. “There’s just a confidence with our group. We expect to win on home ice, and right now it’s not coming our way. All’s we can do is come to work tomorrow and get ready for the next one.”
The Sabres thought this home stand might be a turning point to the season, and that might be the case but in the wrong direction. Buffalo has earned two points in its first four games on that stretch. Game Five comes on Thursday against Detroit – on national television, no less.
“It’s on all of us – coaches, players, all together. All of us,” Krueger said. “We’ve got a game here at home in two nights, and we need to show a different side for sure. We’re in a difficult situation – especially here at home where the fans have been so loyal, so passionate about the Sabres. We want to give them things to cheer about, and we didn’t do it now. Let’s give them what they deserve.”
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)