The Sabres start the second half of their season tonight, and what happened in the first half is better left unsaid.
“Not too good,” forward Marcus Foligno said with a pained laugh Friday. “Obviously, you’re in the basement of the league. Lately, it’s been turning around, and then the past two games it was tough.”
The Sabres finished the opening 41 games of the schedule much like they started them. The 11-26-4 club got outclassed, couldn’t score and suffered lopsided defeats in Winnipeg and Minnesota. It was a major letdown after a 5-2-2 run that featured a 5-0-1 record in First Niagara Center.
They’re back in Buffalo, which they hope cures at least some of their ailments. Tonight’s game against New Jersey is the start of seven home games in the next nine outings.
“Hopefully, we can build something throughout this month,” left wing Matt Moulson said. “We were building something pretty good and didn’t put together two good games. We have another chance to pick it up and put those two games behind us.”
The Sabres aren’t going to do much if they can’t find the net. They totaled just one goal on the two-game trip, which dropped their NHL-worst goal total to 1.63 per game. Minnesota ranks 29th at 2.23.
Buffalo couldn’t score when healthy, and the absence of injured forwards Cody Hodgson, Drew Stafford, Ville Leino, Cody McCormick and Kevin Porter, plus defenseman Henrik Tallinder, diminished the lineup even more.
“If you look at our roster, we’ve got a lot of injuries,” coach Ted Nolan said. “We’ve got six guys out of the lineup, five regulars out of the lineup on a team that’s rebuilding and is a young team. That’s a lot for any team to handle.
“Besides that, I was more disappointed with the way we worked or lack of work and lack of sticking to what made us successful a little bit earlier.”
In hockey parlance, the Sabres don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone. They compensate through work, and it was missing on the road trip.
“We have to play a certain style,” Nolan said. “If we don’t, it shows. The last couple games if we veer from it, if we start ad-libbing, if we start trying to do stuff that is out of our wheelhouse, we’re in trouble. We have to play a very simple, honest, north-south game. It’s not a boring game. It takes a lot of work, but we have to be willing to do it.”
The players are disappointed because they hit the road feeling like they had finally turned a corner.
“We kind of let off the gas,” center Tyler Ennis said. “We were playing really well going into the break, and then we just seemed to be sitting back a little bit. We were taking it to teams, and then the last few games here we’ve been kind of being outplayed. That’s disappointing.
“We’ve made a lot of improvements lately. We’ll get it back.”
The Devils are closing back-to-back games after hosting Chicago on Friday night. They entered the game against the Blackhawks on a 5-1-2 hot streak. As always, New Jersey is tough to score against, ranking eighth in the league with 2.37 goals allowed per game.
Teams need to be patient against the Devils and wait for breaks, but sitting back is what cost Buffalo this week.
“We’ve had a few games where we kind of sat back,” goaltender Ryan Miller said. “This is not a league where you can really sit back if you’re going to generate anything at all. It’s the kind of league where you have to make opportunities.
“We’ve got a fair amount of injuries right now, so we’ve got guys in different roles. They’ve got to learn how to play those roles. It’s a good opportunity for guys, and hopefully they step up and take it.”