The only thing missing was some background music as Mikhail Grigorenko, Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson and Rasmus Ristolainen were among the seven rookies who at the end of Friday’s Sabres practice simply got jiggy with it at center ice.
The centipede. The Watusi (or Batusi as forward Tyler Ennis referred to Grigorenko’s moves at center ice). Moonwalk. Breakdancing.
The rookies’ post-practice stars-on-ice moves at First Niagara Center proved to be quite the comedic sight and served as a reminder that hockey is supposed to be fun even though “suffering” has been Sabreland’s season-long theme.
“You’re talking about having a little more emotion on and off the ice. ... It’s a good way to loosen everyone up,” Ennis said of the light-hearted rookie hazing for the amusement of the team’s veterans.
“Sometimes you just have to add something that loosens everything up,” Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller added. “I think everybody can recognize it’s a little tense here. It was a fun chance to embarrass the rookies. ... You only get one crack at them when they’re rookies.”
Dance fever did lighten the mood somewhat as Buffalo continued preparations for tonight’s game against the Colorado Avalanche at FNC, but frustration continues to be the more prevalent emotion at the foot of Jim Kelley Way and Perry Street and with good reason.
The Sabres (1-7-1) have matched the franchise record for worst nine-game start to a season, a situation that has fans disgruntled, coach Ron Rolston admittedly frustrated and players desperately searching for ways to turn things around. They also rank last in goals per game (1.11) despite ranking in the middle of the pack with a more than respectable 2.62 goals-against average.
Even Miller didn’t stick around to discuss Thursday night’s 3-0 loss to Vancouver, although he offered his reason Friday afternoon after having a chance to sleep on another loss in which a Sabres goaltender failed to be rewarded with a “W” for good play.
“Everybody’s heard me talk quite enough,” said Miller, who added he felt fine following his 31-save effort. “We don’t always need an immediate reaction from me is my stand. You guys know where to find me eventually. If I need a moment, I’m just going to take it and we’ll have a conversation about it later on. ... It wasn’t anything other than let someone else talk a little bit.”
What everyone else has been talking about lately – besides suffering – is the team’s inability to get off to a fast start. The Sabres seem to be stricken with stage fright, with Thursday’s first period just the latest example of their early-game woes.
Buffalo yielded 11 shots on goal in the opening three minutes. The Sabres were outshot, 19-7, in the frame, but only trailed, 1-0, because of Miller’s efforts.
Buffalo has been outscored, 11-1, in the first period and has been outshot, 127-74, during the opening 20 minutes. The Sabres have yielded the game’s first goal eight times.
Still, everyone thought the Sabres would start better against the Canucks considering they had rallied for their first win of the season at Long Island two nights earlier.
“It’s not what we want,” co-captain Steve Ott said. “After a day off, fresh legs and coming off our first win, you’d definitely want a different response and our response was we were complete outmatched from the get-go.
“It’s execution first of all. Executing throughout our lineup. It’s one guy or everybody, it’s everybody continuing to push the game plan. Right from the get-go, we haven’t created the momentum we need to create and by the third period it’s too late.”
“You can’t get behind in this league,” Rolston said.
Do the Sabres need to start their fourth line just to provide instant energy?
“I think it’s just up to everybody to play hard,” Ennis said. “Whoever’s out there first, it’s important to get good energy for the boys.”
Rolston believes the solution is hard work coupled with execution, but the formula may be a little more complex than that.
The proof is in Buffalo’s record. There’s no dancing around that.
“You just have to find small things to build on, encourage each other and build each other up and not help tear each other down, which plenty of outside factors are trying to do at this time,” Miller said. “We know where we stand. ... At some point you have to start digging your way out.
“I don’t think we’ve been so far off that we haven’t been able to get some points out of games. We come down to the wire where we just kind of let things slide. We just have to put together some smaller pieces, stay in games longer. We’re not going to win every one we stay in but we’re going to get points out of them. Start finding a way to play with the lead more, we’ll start getting our fair share of points.”