It's just theater of the absurd watching the Sabres


Staff member

Sabres center Dylan Cozens is stopped by Maple Leafs goaltender Ilya Samsonov during the third period of Saturday's game at KeyBank Center.
Harry Scull Jr., Buffalo News

Sitting in KeyBank Center on Saturday night had me thinking of a ... “Seinfeld” episode?

Sure did. Remember when Elaine’s boyfriend, David Puddy, got Jerry and Kramer and others to “support the team” by spelling out the word “D-E-V-I-L-S” on their chests in Madison Square Garden? We had that in Section 105 on Saturday, in the second row, smack behind the Sabres’ bench.

Eight guys in white T-shirts. A single letter on the chest of the shirts. No. 34s on the sleeves and red hearts on the front. They were spelling “MATTHEWS.”
As in Auston Matthews. The star of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Then they held up two gold balloons late in the third period to form the number “60” after Matthews potted his long-awaited milestone goal on the season. The building roared the final tally in a 3-0 Toronto victory.

Just another weird moment in a Buffalo season full of them. And a low one. A complete organizational embarrassment.
Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews celebrates his 60th goal of the season during the third period of Saturday's game against the Sabres at KeyBank Center.
Harry Scull Jr., Buffalo News

You can’t question the players’ effort on a night they outshot the Leafs 34-22, and out-attempted them 69-38. Their execution? Pretty inept. But the failures on the ice trace back to the coaches, the GM’s office, the business office and, ultimately, to owner-in-absentia Terry Pegula.

At some point, Pegula really needs to send us some smoke signal that he gives a damn about what is going on here. We assume he does, but we can’t know for sure since we never hear from him or even see him in the building.

Remember that chatter before the season about trying to cut off opposing fans from the building? Epic fail. You’re never going to shut out Leafs fans entirely. And especially when your season-ticket holders understandably bail on you out of complete disgust at the product and sell their tickets to the highest Ontario bidder.

Here are some free suggestions to the Sabres for next season: Tie Leafs games to other games. You want in for Toronto, you have to buy a package to two other games. Don’t just use a presale for a day or two. Restrict sales of Leafs tickets up until a few days before the games.

Does the owner just want money in his bank account, or does he want his team’s fans in the stands? The players sure do. They know this has been a terrible year, but they feel abandoned in a way no other team in this league feels.

Of course, the fans do, too. No other fan base has endured a 13-year playoff drought in the history of the league.

“I think we just went out there and just tried to play our game and get momentum within each other, within everybody in the locker room,” said an ashen-faced Alex Tuch, who grew up loving the goatheads and has to be crestfallen to see where this program is now. “Obviously, we have to try to get the fans back in here to support us. It’s been tough. It has. For everybody involved. We’re going to continue to work. We’re going to try to earn it.”

The Sabres took Sunday off and will return to practice Monday. The Washington Capitals are here Tuesday. The Sabres are seven points out of the playoffs with seven games left and five teams to pass. They’re done. They’re now cannon fodder for the Capitals, Philadelphia and Detroit to try to get points off of to ensure their playoff lives.

Even a serviceable power play would have been enough for the Sabres in several games this year, and Saturday was another. They went 0-for-6. They were hesitant to shoot. Assistant coach Matt Ellis is one of those great guys whose work has unfortunately run its course. If head coach Don Granato stays – and that is, by far, not a sure bet – there is no way all of the assistants will. Granato already became more hands-on with the power play a few weeks ago, and Ellis is going to have to be sacrificed.

When it comes to the Sabres, so much is plain dumb this season. Some of their stats just make no sense.

They’ve only led at the end of the first period in 17 of their 75 games (only pathetic San Jose and Chicago are worse). They have a goal differential of minus-33 in the first period and plus-21 in the third period.

They have a power play that is 30th in the NHL at home and 28th overall. They have a penalty kill that’s fifth in the league at home and 24th on the road.

They have had one losing streak all year stretch as long as four games. They have had two winning streaks stretch as long as three games. Given that, I guess holding a record of 35-35-5 makes sense. They have 75 points in 75 games and a goal differential close to break-even at minus-4 after entering the night minus-1.

Dylan Cozens is so snakebit about putting the puck in the net, he’s already talking about what kind of summer he needs to have to fix his scoring woes. He’s another heart-and-soul guy clearly impacted by nights when Sabres fans don’t show up and the building is filled with interlopers.

Cozens said he wonders what it would be like to have that kind of support on the road. Sabres players from the ‘90s and 2000s could tell him stories about places like Carolina, Atlanta, Washington, Tampa and others that used to get overrun with Buffalo faithful.

Will we ever see that again? Not until this franchise figures out a way to get back to the playoffs.

“I know we have to earn it. We all know in this room that we have to earn it,” Cozens said. “We understand it’s been a long time. We have to get that support back by by being a good team and winning games.

“It comes down to we can work as hard as we want. But at the end of the day, to get that support back, we’ve got to win games. It’s going to be a big summer for all of us. And I know we’ve got a lot to prove.”