After one night of fun, it’s back to suffering in Sabreland.
From the drop of the puck Thursday, Vancouver showed the Sabres they have a long way to go before they’ll be on even footing with an elite team. Only the continued stellar play of Ryan Miller kept the Canucks from routing Buffalo, but the visitors still managed to leave with an easy, 3-0 victory.
Frustration was evident everywhere, with the fans again calling for General Manager Darcy Regier’s job and the players looking angry and bewildered in the dressing room.
“If we don’t play the right way, they’re creating their own frustration,” coach Ron Rolston said, “so they’ve got to figure that out.”
The crowd in First Niagara Center saw the Sabres make more dubious history. Buffalo fell to 1-7-1, matching the 1993-94 edition for worst nine-game start in the franchise record book.
“This is ridiculous,” defenseman Mike Weber said. “This is extremely frustrating.”
It wasn’t pretty as the Sabres failed miserably in their attempt to follow up on a 4-3 shootout win against the Islanders. The Sabres have made a habit of bad starts, but they set the bar for opening on their heels Thursday.
Through one minute, the Canucks were on pace for 240 shots. After two minutes, they were still on pace for 240. The Sabres finally tightened up in the third minute – they allowed three shots instead of four.
Miller was a wall as the visitors opened with an 11-1 shot edge through three minutes. They built it to 13-4 and finished the period up, 19-7, on the shot counter and 1-0 on the scoreboard.
The Sabres have given up the opening goal in eight of nine games. They’ve been outscored, 11-1, in first periods.
“We just gave their team fuel for the rest of the game,” center Cody Hodgson said. “We need to be better off starts. We’ve known that all year, but this was a different level. They just dominated us the first couple minutes.”
Miller finished with 34 saves. The Sabres’ media relations staff issued a not available/declined comment for the goalie following the game. It was the most stout defense in front of Miller this season.
“We rely on Millsie to play unbelievable every night,” Hodgson said. “It’s too much.”
The Sabres tightened defensively after the first, but it didn’t stop Vancouver from doubling its lead during the second period and tripling it in the third. Ryan Stanton’s goal with 9:56 remaining refocused the fans’ ire toward the embattled Regier. A rhythmic “Fire Darcy” chant and clap started as the goal light flashed, and it resurfaced regularly for the remainder of the game by those patrons who stayed.
The Sabres announced a crowd of 18,374, but there were again rows of no-shows in every level.
“It’s no fun,” co-captain Thomas Vanek said. “Every guy in here trains all summer long to be successful, and to have the record we have is disappointing.”
Vanek thought he beat Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo in the opening minute of the third to make it 2-1. But officials reviewed the apparent goal and waved it off because it struck the crossbar, dinged the left post and rolled along the goal line without crossing it.
Luongo finished with a 25-save shutout, and the Sabres again left feeling bad about their game and situation. The next contest is Saturday night when the Colorado Avalanche visit the arena.
Colorado was undefeated in its opening six games while allowing only six goals. The Sabres have scored 10 times in nine games. The Avalanche lost for the first time in new coach Patrick Roy’s seven-game tenure late Thursday night, dropping a 4-2 decision to Detroit.
“There’s no one up from the minors that’s going to come up here and give us a boost,” Vanek said. “This is our team. We know it.”
“I’m frustrated,” Rolston said, “but we’ll get through it.”