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When things get grim
There's a comfort and a harshness in keeping it real
If you haven’t noticed, things have gotten dark with the Sabres. Like blackout shades on a window, there’s nearly no light of hope for the season emanating from KeyBank Center these days.
Never mind what COVID-19 has done to the schedule and the lineup the past few weeks, the results haven’t been there even when there has been a game. The Sabres have won five games since before Halloween when they began the season 5-0-1. We were aware they were playing over their heads at the time, but saw a lot of good things happening on the ice to keep in mind for future seasons.
And those good things are still there… They’re just overwhelmed with gloom. Don Granato is doing as well as he can with a roster that is thin on total talent, has little depth, and has had poor-to-horrendous goaltending for most of the season.
But the season being the way it is with COVID protocols sweeping players out of the lineup suddenly and sometimes for weeks being coupled with injuries that happen just because hockey is a wicked game, they’ve taken a toll and, understandably, fans have really started tuning out.
Their latest loss, a 6-1 handling by the Tampa Bay Lightning, showed the class of the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, the depth of their lineup, and the ease with which they can take over a game.
It also showed how hard things can get for the Sabres and it was made worse when Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen left after the first period with a lower-body injury and Malcolm Subban (technically Buffalo’s No. 5 goalie) sustained an apparent injury late in the second period and toughed it out the rest of the way. Both players wound up on the injury list on Wednesday with Luukkonen out week-to-week and Subban out month-to-month. Those two joining Craig Anderson (still month-to-month) and Dustin Tokarski (week-to-week recovering from COVID) brings original backup Aaron Dell back into the fold with last season’s feel-good story Michael Houser signed and likely soon to join the team.
All the positives have had some smudge against them. Tage Thompson and Kyle Okposo have been out with COVID. Jack Quinn, who made a lovely debut on Tuesday, missed a month with mono. Casey Mittelstadt who showed some hopeful play has been injured long-term twice already. Anderson’s super start at 40 years old ended abruptly with an injury that has kept him out months with no real sign of when or if he’ll return. Rasmus Dahlin has looked super the past few weeks, but had what’s become an annual slow start that got the wolves out for him. Victor Olofsson hasn’t looked the same since he missed time with a soft tissue problem that’s affected his shot. Luukkonen was making people wonder if he was up for good with his performance. Alas…
I’m sure there’s more I am forgetting but that list alone is sad. Sad because Granato has done well, there are guys performing well both in Buffalo and Rochester, and in a season that wasn’t meant to be one to push for the postseason in anyway has people down in the dumps once again.
I’ve said all along that this season was good for everyone involved because there are no expectations for big success. It’s a season-long evaluation and growing process for the young players, a chance for them to show what they’re really about at the highest level. For a while their solid efforts weren’t being rewarded with wins because goaltending was so poor. Once Luukkonen settled things down, COVID and injuries picked up and made the difficulty level just as high.
Liking the Sabres has been made incredibly difficult for fans the past 10 years and counting which makes it a little better that the local football team has been very good. But if you’re all about hockey and not-so much Buffalo football… you’re really screwed. And if you’re about both, you really want a deep run by the football team just to keep your attention off the hockey team.
I feel like I owe everyone an apology for laying as dormant as I have here lately. So, apologies. At some point I’ll elaborate deeper as to what’s been going on and such but I felt like getting some proper hockey writing done first.
I haven’t been fully dormant as I’ve teamed up with Lance Lysowski of The Buffalo News to start a Sabres podcast called Maintenance Day.
If you’ve caught it already and added it to your list, thank you so much for that. If you haven’t though, you can find it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify Podcasts, and also to download at our Buzzsprout page. We’ll have new episodes every Monday and we’ll only take up about 45 minutes to an hour of your day. We’re good and palatable.
I’ll also have a new story up at Die By The Blade soon. I’ll link it right here when it goes up. It’s about Northeastern goalie Devon Levi and how in the Sabres dark goaltending times he offers up some brightness for the future.
Thanks for reading everyone, I’ll work on being far more regular here. Brains and life are a challenge for all of us these days.