The praise for the Buffalo Sabres came as frequently as their goals the previous two seasons. Hockey experts and league personnel marveled at how perfectly suited the Sabres were for the "new NHL." They commended the team for adapting to the rules that favored speed and scoring.
But now, scoring is down. The league has edged back toward defense over offense, and the Sabres are languishing in last place. That leads to one big question.
Is the Sabres personnel that was so successful in the wide-open NHL still suitable in a league that features tighter games?
"We ask ourselves that question," Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier said Tuesday. "I think it is.
"We can [adapt]. That doesn't mean we don't learn as we go and maybe make some minor personnel changes down the road or stay the way we are, but yeah, we can be all right. We're heading in the right direction now. We're not getting the results, but we're moving in the right direction."
The Sabres have heard the calls for an overhaul. They've won just once in the past six games and sit in the cellar of the Northeast Division at 6-9-1. They've scored three goals in the last four games and were shut out twice.
"From an outside perspective, you're in last place, you've lost some close games," goaltender Ryan Miller said. "All right, the sky is falling, everything is terrible, trade everybody. Here we go, start over again.
"But when you take the time to look, last year, what did we do? If there were really tight games, we pulled them out. This year, we haven't pulled them out, but we were in them.
"We'll find ways to win. We have the guys to do it."
Ales Kotalik agrees. Most of the young Sabres have known only success, but Kotalik is one of the few who experienced the dreary days from 2001 to '04, when the Sabres had three straight last-place seasons.
The left winger says this edition of the team is different. He said while those earlier squads knew they were overmatched and losses were inevitable, this club knows it can compete and win. The personnel can remain, but the philosophy has to change.
"We're a little different team now, and maybe we have to try to find a new identity," Kotalik said. "It's not easy. We came into the season and expected that we were going to play the same.
"Most teams, they're focusing more on the defense now. You see them more backchecking than trying to forecheck. We don't have any choice but doing the same thing, trying to play defense first and create something when we have a chance, and be good on special teams. That's the only way now in the NHL you can really put teams down."
Coach Lindy Ruff scoffed at the suggestion of personnel moves. He quickly pointed to the past two games as a sign the Sabres have the right players. They outshot Toronto and Boston by a combined 76-45. They just didn't score, something he believes will change.
"If you generate those opportunities, it'll go," he said. "The team is built on speed. It's built on being able to create in a number of ways, with the defense's mobility -- with [Jaroslav Spacek] in the lineup I think we've seen that -- so not at all [do we need to change players]. We've hurt ourselves. We've beat ourselves."
Regier's confidence in the Sabres comes from looking around the league. He sees other teams' personnel, looks at his, and sees a team that he feels can adapt and improve.
"We're not a lot different than a Montreal," Regier said. "Pittsburgh, like us, has not gotten off to the start they would like to. We're not a lot different than Carolina.
"I think we're still in a good area."