Let’s go over the definition of “suffering,” just to be clear.
It leads off with “submitting to and being forced to endure.” That certainly fits as the Sabres have submitted to everyone, enduring their fifth setback Thursday in a 4-1 loss to Columbus.
Another part refers to “allow by reason of indifference.” That applies, too, as General Manager Darcy Regier knew Buffalo would be bad yet did almost nothing to improve the immediate prospects of a team that has missed two straight postseasons and four of six.
A third part of the definition talks about “putting up with as unavoidable.” That’s where it gets tricky in Sabreland.
Will the fans put up with what they’re seeing? Will owner Terry Pegula? If so, for how long?
For a good chunk of the crowd in First Niagara Center, the answer was 40 minutes. There were rows and rows of empty seats as the third period began, the fans apparently deciding they had better ways to spend their time. The ones who stuck around did a lot of booing, and a significant number sustained a “Fire Darcy” chant.
It’s tough to blame the ones who left or booed.
“Do I blame them? No,” Sabres captain Thomas Vanek said. “The way we’ve been playing, I understand. It’s obviously been frustrating on our side, too.”
Suffering doesn’t have to mean unwatchable, but about 80 percent of the Sabres’ season has been exactly that. There are few signs – if any – that things are going to get better.
“That’s not the product we want to put on the ice,” forward Cody McCormick said.
The Sabres fell to 0-4-1 and moved to within two games of matching their longest winless streak to open a season. Odds are good they’ll climb within a game Saturday when they play in Chicago against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
“At least we’ve had the opportunity to learn quite a bit because when you lose hockey games you have to take things away from them, maybe more so than when you win,” said goaltender Ryan Miller. “The sting’s there, and the motivation’s there and we have to keep moving forward.
“We’re a team in the NHL. We’ve got good players, and that’s the attitude we’re going to start taking.”
Fans don’t seem to expect much success from the Sabres, but the team failed to meet even the low expectations during the first period. The crowd of 18,210 lightly booed the Sabres to their dressing room after watching them give up two late goals to fall into a 3-1 hole.
“There are expectations in here,” Miller said. “It’s not just a learning season. This is about a chance to play for the playoffs and play for a Stanley Cup, and you’re not wasting time.
“We’ve burned a few games here. We need to improve, but I feel like there’s a foundation here. There’s enough talent here. We have to get over the hump. We have to play better, there’s no getting around it. But I think we will.”
The Sabres have repeatedly said this season will be a learning process because of their youth. They’re getting taught lesson after lesson.
“I understand we’re young and youthful, but at the same time they’re good players,” said Vanek, who had a stunning, between-the-legs deflection for his 252nd goal, which tied Craig Ramsay for fifth on the franchise list. “There’s a reason they got drafted high and made this team. In preseason, you look at those guys and they made plays, they went hard to the net. Now we’re a little bit timid.
“It’s been a tough stretch already for us. We’ve got to go after it. We’ve got good players, and we have to start making plays. It starts with myself, and it’s got to trickle down.”
It remains to be seen whether the suffering will lessen. If it does, how many people will still be watching?
“We can understand their frustration,” said Tyler Myers, who combined with defense partner Mike Weber to put up a minus-7. “It wasn’t a pretty game.”
NHL Report on Page B7