Mike Harrington: Sabres' big names are coming up woefully small - The Buffalo News

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Mike Harrington: Sabres' big names are coming up woefully small

As the slogan sort of says, it's time to Sharpen Our Swords about the ungodly opening of this Sabres season.

It's only taken us three games to clearly deduce that, in fact, it wasn't all Dan Bylsma's fault. Even though the denizens of the dressing room at One Seymour H. Knox III Plaza wanted you to believe backward coaching was what last season was about.

Well, the supporting cast is quite a bit different, but almost all the players in starring roles are returnees. And other than Evander Kane, they haven't been remotely good enough.

Embarrassing actually seems too meek a descriptive for Monday's 6-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils, an atrocity that dropped the Sabres to 0-2-1 and has to have alarm bells ringing throughout the organization.

This is not how Phil Housley had to picture his career as an NHL head coach would start. And the improvements new General Manager Jason Botterill made on paper are flaming out on the ice, headlined by Nathan Beaulieu's egregious giveaways in back-to-back games that have turned into goals.

Sabres' early season summary: 'We're just doing a lot of things wrong'

After a day off Tuesday and practice here Wednesday, the Sabres hit the road for a four-game West Coast trip that opens Thursday in San Jose. Might be the best thing for this group. Play games so late that a lot of the fanbase won't stay up to avert their eyes from the ugliness on the TV screen, lest they see more of this.

"The fortunate part is we're only three games into the season," said Kane, who has four of the club's seven goals and about all of its quotient of effort and production. "We have a big trip out west we need to be ready for because if we play like that, it's going to be 10-0."

"Good point by Evander," added Jack Eichel, one of many invisible skaters in blue and gold. "You go out there and play like this, you're going to get beat pretty bad. We all have to be better."

The Sabres are talking a good game. To their credit, there was lots of accountability around the room after this one. Now it's about turning the words into some action.

"In all three games, I've been invisible," said Ryan O'Reilly. "I haven't been creating, haven't been tough defensively. I'm just out there skating around. It's not good enough. I've got to regroup here. I wish I had an answer for you."

Housley looked ashen after this one. There really wasn't much explantion. He tried to put lipstick on a pig by pointing out his team won the third period as Kane scored the only goal. The counterpoint to that is that after being completely humiliated by New Jersey's four-goal second period, the Sabres burst out of the gate in the first 13 minutes of the final frame with exactly two shots on goal.

Some victory there.

Of greater concern was Housley talking about how his team's resilience needs to be better. About how its reaction to adversity needs to improve.


Listen to Housley address the media after Monday's 6-2 loss:


It was just four months ago where Housley was coaching in the Stanley Cup final with a Nashville team that endured horrific season-ending injuries to Kevin Fiala and Ryan Johansen and played on, all the way to two wins away from the Cup. That's how you battle.

Quite quickly, Housley has to know he's no longer got P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis on his defense. And that he's coaching what has repeatedly proven to be a mentally fragile team since last season began.

This team has given up four short-handed goals in three games – after giving up four all of last season. It has three even-strength goals in three games and is showing a quick penchant for tail-between-its-legs hockey the instant things go bad.

"Big errors you can't have at this level or you're going to get scored on," Kane said of the shortie epidemic. "The goals are all odd-man rushes. Either we're mis-reading plays, jumping at the wrong time or not being strong on the puck, we have to clean that up. Those are killers. Hopefully that stops next game."

Saturday night's trainwreck in Brooklyn could be explained away some. But only some. The New York Islanders were embarrassed, 5-0, Friday in Columbus and were hellbent on putting on a much better show in their home opener.

There were no excuses Monday. This was tank-era hockey and the Sabres got crushed by their fans when the buzzer went off after each period. It was richly deserved.

By the end of the second period, Kane was minus-4 in the game. Eichel, Beaulieu, Matt Moulson, Jason Pominville and Rasmus Ristolainen were all minus-3.

Wish I could give credit on Twitter to the fan who wisecracked, "Kane eagled the seventh hole." Because this kind of hockey on a consistent basis will do nothing but lead to early reservations for the golf course come spring (Nice crack, good sir).

O'Reilly – who, by the way, is still the highest-paid player in franchise history this season at $9 million – is correct in pointing out he's done nothing so far. But he's not alone. Eichel and Sam Reinhart had no shots on goal Monday.

Through three games, Okposo and Reinhart each have no points and are minus-6. O'Reilly has one assist and is minus-3. Johan Larsson, billed the team's top defensive specialist, has no points and is minus-4. Ristolainen looks like he's on Tyler Myers Regression Road.

The paying customers were downright surly during the Devils' four-goal second period that had the Sabres looking like an expansion team the likes of which we're supposed to be seeing this year in Las Vegas.

How many odd-man rushes and layups is one team going to give up?

"It's been tough, not the start we wanted," Eichel said. "We're just not doing enough.I do feel for the fans. But even Thursday, we didn't win so it's not what anybody wants."

"I don't blame them for the way we competed," O'Reilly said. "These people definitely deserve better. That wasn't a good show we put on at all. It's disappointing. It's a massive regroup for us now."

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