Sabres Mailbag: New team, same problems as fans ask inevitable questions - The Buffalo News

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Sabres Mailbag: New team, same problems as fans ask inevitable questions

It wasn't supposed to be like this. Everyone in the Sabres' organization was thrilled for a fresh start. Yet after three games, the SOS has been issued.

Same Old Sabres.

The distress flag came out of storage following the 6-3 loss to the Islanders on Saturday. It was waving by the second intermission of Monday's 6-2 loss to New Jersey.

Surprisingly, things are calm in the dressing room.

"I don't feel it's a crisis," Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen said. "We know when we play well we are going to win games."

The fans want to know when that will start. They want to know a lot of things, so here is the first Sabres Mailbag of the season. We'll open with a doubleheader.

* * *

Question: Why do the Sabres hate us?

Question: Ask the Sabres if they are going to start to play this year or not. Because if not I have better things to do.

Answer: The 47-year relationship between the Sabres and their fans isn't going anywhere. People in Buffalo love hockey.

But this love is on the rocks.

It was palpable Monday afternoon. The fans wanted to cheer during the opening period. They know players have hinted (or outright said) they need more support from the crowd. The fans' impressive decibel levels early against the Devils weren't commensurate with the relatively benign scoring chances.

And how did the players repay the ticket-buying public? Six shots in 20 minutes on only 11 attempts. By the midpoint of the period, the fans had been lulled back to silence. They'd seen this too many times.

At the start of last season, I wrote this: "Last-place teams and bad hockey have sucked the life out of the Sabres’ arena. If the NHL kept track of quietest buildings, Buffalo would be in the running for a championship. It’s time for ticket-buying fans to turn the corner. While skepticism is warranted, unbridled enthusiasm after entering the rink is OK, too."

Then last season had its unwatchable moments. This season has already had them, too. Fans are quickly moving back to "show me you're worth it" mode, and the players have only themselves to blame.

* * *

Q: New coach-GM-system – STILL lack effort-compete-response to adversity. Core players just not good enough? Rebuild 2.0?

A: It's too early to start over. There were 10 new faces in the opening-night lineup. It's going to take them time to get used to each other.

What has the fans so dispirited and/or mean-spirited is the lack of recognizable effort. If guys make mistakes because of unfamiliarity, that's one thing. The Sabres gave up goals Monday because the Devils beat them to loose pucks and made them look slow and uninterested.

That just doesn't fly, nor should it.

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

* * *

Q: Do you think Sam Reinhart should go on Jack Eichel's wing?

A: During the previous experiments with Reinhart at center, the Sabres pulled the plug because he wasn't working out in the middle. When he moves this season – when, not if – it will be because things aren't working out for the right wingers.

The Sabres had penciled in Justin Bailey or Nick Baptiste. Baptiste was all but invisible during the Prospects Challenge, and he was off to Rochester after barely making a peep during training camp. Bailey looked good as a scorer during the rookie tournament. The Sabres wanted to see him as a physical force during preseason, and his unfamiliarity with that role was again evident.

With those two joining Hudson Fasching in the Amerks' lineup, the Sabres kept unproven Seth Griffith, aging Matt Moulson and claimed Jordan Nolan on waivers. It's easy to envision Reinhart going to right wing and Johan Larsson moving back to center.

* * *

Q: The Bills traded to better meet the system. Who on Sabres are such candidates? Reinhart? Ristolainen? Both make sense to me.

A: Speed is clearly important for coach Phil Housley. The knock on Reinhart has always been his skating.

There is a fast center on the trade market: Colorado's Matt Duchene. It's going to take a lot more than Reinhart to pry Duchene from Colorado. Plus, would the Avalanche's Joe Sakic take more Buffalo players after getting stuck with Mikhail Grigorenko, who's in Russia, and Nikita Zadorov, who was scratched for the opener?

I imagine it'll take more than a few losses for Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill to start dealing.

* * *

Q: Do the Sabres have a goalie that can back-end the system the coach wants to play?

A: That's hard to answer because we haven't seen the system Housley wants to play. Not even a pond-hockey coach would draw up what the Sabres have been doing.

Robin Lehner admitted Saturday he needs to bail out his teammates more. According to DispellingVoodoo.com, the goalie's save percentage in high-danger areas last year was .781, below the NHL average of .812. If the Sabres are going to take chances with their defensemen, they need a goalie who can confidently handle odd-man rushes.

I still think Lehner is among the least of Buffalo's problems, but he will need more saves at crucial moments to alleviate fans' concerns.

Sabres Notebook: Defense leaving the goalies out to dry

* * *

Q: For whom are the Sabres tanking?

A: Rasmus Dahlin. The defenseman plays for Frölunda in the Swedish elite league and is expected to star for his country at the world junior championships in Buffalo this winter.

* * *

Q: How can they ice this lineup nightly while Linus Ullmark and Brendan Guhle "develop" in Rochester? Those two wouldn't help this team right now?

A: Ullmark is an NHL-ready talent, but even Dominik Hasek would look average with the porous team defense shown by Buffalo. Again, Lehner and Chad Johnson haven't been the big problems.

Botterill and Housley are steadfast in their belief that prospects should earn their way to the NHL. Guhle is fun to watch. He might trail Eichel as the second-best skater in the organization. He has big-league size.

But on paper, there's not much reason to rush him when Marco Scandella, Nathan Beaulieu and Jake McCabe are manning the left side.

(Take note that I said on paper. On the ice, Beaulieu is certainly off to a shoddy start.)

* * *

Q: Is it just me or are Sabres D-men laying out more this season? Why are they leaving their skates so much to block passes? #OutOfPosition

A: It's more noticeable because the Sabres are giving up between four and 4 million odd-man rushes per game. I haven't seen Housley or assistant coach Chris Hajt teaching the defensemen to dive. The blue-liners admit they need to defend those rushes better, and that includes knowing when to hit the ice.

* * *

Q: My son is 10. Do you think exposing him to Sabres and Bills is wise or am I setting him up for failure later in life?

A: You may not be setting him up for failure, but you're certainly teaching him what it looks like.

* * *

Q: Am I right in saying it's not the coaches but the players?

A: It sure looks that way.

"The guys that are going to do the job are in here," Beaulieu said. "We've just got to relax. We've got to remember it's three games in and there's no panic."

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