DENVER — When the Sabres started their rebuild talk, they brought up Pittsburgh and Chicago as clubs to emulate. Sure, those teams are great role models, but it would be just as wise to mimic Colorado.
The Avalanche showed more talent Saturday than any opponent Buffalo has faced this season. The Sabres didn’t stand a chance.
The speedy, slick-passing Avs did whatever they wanted in a 7-1 victory in Pepsi Center. The crowd of 16,649 ate it up, creating a fun-filled afternoon for everyone except the players in white, blue and gold.
“It just seemed when goals were going in for them it never really stopped,” Sabres left wing Marcus Foligno said. “We took a step back.”
The Avs tried – and, more impressively, completed – the type of plays kids dream up in video games. They had spin moves, rushes and passes that usually show up only in freewheeling All-Star Games.
“That’s a really good group of forwards, really skilled, really fast, and they’re going to kill you in transition,” right wing Brian Flynn said. “They obviously did.”
It was a harsh reminder for the Sabres and their fans of how far the organization really has to go. No matter how hard the Sabres would have worked Saturday, there was no way they could have matched the skill that was on display.
“Where they were last year is kind of where we are this year,” Sabres captain Steve Ott said of last season’s 29th-place finisher, which improved to 35-14-5 this year. “Hopefully, it’s a good proving point to this team and a lot of our young guys going forward that when you take the right steps you can play hockey like that.”
The Avs improved through the draft. Nathan MacKinnon, selected first overall in last year’s selection process, looked more like a candidate for MVP than Rookie of the Year. He had a goal and three points.
He had plenty of help. Gabriel Landeskog, selected second overall in 2011, and Jamie McGinn scored two goals each. Defenseman Erik Johnson had three assists. Eleven Avs reached the score sheet, including goaltender Semyon Varlamov (one assist, 27 saves).
“Those are top-end guys that played well and played strong, and they really took it to us,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. “It was just one of those very, very ugly games you don’t want to see too often.”
The Avs led, 3-0, after the first period and built a 5-1 cushion after 40 minutes. Nolan put goaltender Ryan Miller out of his misery by inserting Jhonas Enroth for the third, and the Avs showed there was enough misery to go around with two more goals.
“Straight out they embarrassed us, and we embarrassed Ryan Miller,” Ott said. “There was no support at all. Ryan’s key is stopping pucks, but a lot of them were back-door tap-ins or stuff that has to be picked up by the off-side forward or the D-men.
“You get in a hole against a good, young team like this, it’s going to sting like it did.”
The seven goals were the most allowed by the Sabres, while the Avs set their season high for goals scored. They’ve scored four or more in 22 of their 54 games, which is why they rank sixth in the NHL at 3.0 goals per game.
“They’re really fast,” Foligno said. “We saw a lot of neutral-zone play how they bump pucks back to guys that are skating forward, and that’s smart. That’s just a team that has the neutral zone down pat.
“Those guys fly. If you’re standing flat-footed against those guys, you have no chance.”
The 30th-place Sabres get a team more their speed Monday as 29th-ranked Edmonton comes to First Niagara Center.
“It was a bad effort by us,” defenseman Henrik Tallinder said. “I don’t know what happened. Everything happened. What could go wrong did.”