Disgraceful first period showing many of Sabres' warts should be the end for Don Granato


Staff member

Good job by the Sabres social media team to go on X and offer Terry Pegula a happy 73rd birthday on Wednesday morning. The replies to the owner were about as pointed as you'd imagine.

Maybe a better read of the room would have been in order there. And remember, that was several hours before the puck dropped in KeyBank Center.

After his team gave up five goals to the Ottawa Senators – the Ottawa Senators! – in as disgraceful a first period as we've seen in a long time, the owner has reached another nuclear winter with yet another head coach.

Don Granato is armed with a contract extension that hasn't started. Doesn't even kick in until next season. The owner loves him. General Manager Kevyn Adams loves him. The players say they love him, but they have a funny way of showing it.

But there's no way this franchise can move on with Granato next season.

There would be no point in firing him now. The 6-2 loss to the Sens pretty much ends any hope of some miracle run to a wild card. But come mid-April, Granato should be sent on his way with a thanks for developing some of these young players, and someone else needs to try to end this ungodly playoff drought.

Whether Pegula makes amends with Lindy Ruff, promotes Seth Appert from Rochester or goes in some other direction, someone else has to coach this team come September.

Wednesday's game was a final straw in a season full of too many of them.

"Certainly wasn't enjoyable to watch," Granato said glumly of that 5-0 deficit through 20 minutes. "And it was disappointing. Simple things we let slip, simple details."

"It's unacceptable," added Rasmus Dahlin. "It felt like everything was just going against us and we had no rhythm."

Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, who undoubtedly rates as the MVP of the team, was suddenly teleported to that awful first period against Toronto here 13 months ago when he couldn't stop a beach ball.

Mark Kastelic's routine shot from near the right boards leaked through Luukkonen's legs and Artem Zub poked it home at 2:37. A deflection by Boris Katchouk at 4:56 made it 2-0 and Granato was stoic behind the bench.

First game off a West Coast trip is tough. We saw how bad the Red Wings and Islanders looked here a couple of weeks ago in the same spot. But how about a wake-up call? Why not use your timeout? Nothing.

Then came Drake Batherson's goal at 6:01, getting behind Jack Quinn and deking around Luukkonen. It's 3-0. You have to give UPL a mercy pull there. Nothing.

"It's tough. He's made lots and lots of saves for us," Granato said. "... Lots of guys didn't look like themselves and it's a tough league when that happens. And 'Upie' was one of them."
Jakob Chychrun's unscreened slapper from the left circle at 8:49 made it 4-0 and we finally saw movement. UPL was out and Devon Levi was in. Too late. Levi gave up a tip by Brady Tkachuk in the final minute of the first and the Sabres were booed off the ice in a 5-0 hole.

"We wanted, I guess, to play as individuals and we disappointed Upie," said Connor Clifton. "He's the heart and soul of this team. He's kept us in so many games. So to just not show up and play that careless style and give them freebies all over the place...."

No need to finish the sentence. Granato can't make saves. He can't cover guys in front of the net or convert great offensive chances his team too often fails to put home.

What he can do is check for a pulse. He can shake something up. He can't freeze in that spot and he did. That was the fastest four goals from the start of any game this season in the entire NHL and Granato did nothing to stop it.

Why no timeout?

"We were generating chances back the other way," Granato said, referring to missed opportunities in the first by Dahlin, Eric Robinson, Peyton Krebs and JJ Peterka. "Had we not, had it been a complete one-way and we weren't generating chances, yeah I probably would have."

Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is pulled after giving up four goals to the Ottawa Senators during the first period
at KeyBank Center on Wednesday, March 27, 2024. Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News

It has been my belief the problems of this team lie mostly with underachieving players. Adams' failure to augment his forward corps with a veteran or two in the wake of Jack Quinn's June Achilles injury was another major misstep.

The players took major umbrage when the paying customers dared to attack Granato during that 9-4 loss to Columbus in December. They rallied behind Luukkonen and played from Jan. 1 until the start of the most recent road trip at a 99-point pace.

(Of course, there's the issue of the 73-point pace Granato's team played at through New Year's Eve.)

We saw lots of terrible starts this year, something Granato & Co. seemed to fix in recent weeks. But the coach has never fully figured out the power play, and you just can't chase every season due to bad starts like Granato's teams do.

The Sabres seem to know it's over for their chances. Six goals against in the final 21 minutes last week in Edmonton show that. Five goals at home in the first period to a team below them in the standings show it even more.

"I was pretty shocked. I thought our season's on the line," Clifton said. "They came in and they gave it to us and we had no answer."
There are business considerations at work here as well.

What are the Sabres going to sell for next season? Contracts dictate a lot of these players will be back. And what kind of reception would Granato get at the home opener if he's still around? Especially if that season-opening trip to Prague goes poorly.

A new scoreboard – which is several years overdue, by the way – can't be the focus of a hockey season.

Newly hired COO Pete Guelli probably thinks he has to spend most of his time dealing with the growing boondoggle of PSL sales in Orchard Park. But he knows the arena needs all kinds of work.

Well, KeyBank Center needs far more than just a scoreboard. It needs new seats, new areas for fans to gather. A strong power cleaning, too.

Most of all, it needs a playoff team. Granato's shelf life seems to have expired, but a 14th straight year out of the postseason would put Adams' entire operation in question.

Going forward with Granato can no longer be an option, no matter how difficult a decision it might be in house.
Happy birthday, Terry.