Mike Harrington: A month's musings from another struggling start - The Buffalo News

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Mike Harrington: A month's musings from another struggling start

The first month of the schedule is gone. And just like so many others in recent years, it's a bad one in the standings for the Buffalo Sabres.

Saturday's 3-2 loss to San Jose dropped the Sabres to 3-7-2. They are seventh out of eight teams in the Atlantic Division, 15th out of 16 in the Eastern Conference and 28th out of 31 overall.

Photo Gallery: Sharks 3, Sabres 2

This doesn't look remotely close to a playoff team. Another poor start to the season just emphasizes the point.

The Sabres are 14-37-6 in October since 2013 and 23-48-8 since 2010. Those are ghastly figures. They haven't had a winning record in the month since 2011.

There were plenty of mental notes and plenty of jotted ones in the wake of this game. Follow along:

Goaltender interference has become the what-is-a-catch question of the NHL: Jack Eichel's disallowed goal in the first period was a joke of a decision on multiple levels. First off, the play was called a goal on the ice. So was there indisputable evidence to show interference and overturn that call? Hardly.

Secondly, Sharks goalie Aaron Dell had plenty of time to reset himself after he got bumped by Sam Reinhart. The contact and the shot were hardly simultaneous. If this is the standard now, let's see if it holds up the next five months.

With disallowed goal and smashed stick, not ideal 21st birthday for Sabres' Eichel

Coach Phil Housley said he understood San Jose's argument and would have challenged the play, too. That's being coachy. It was a garbage call. The players were mystified by it and General Manager Jason Botterill was seen in the press box in the first intermission talking to officiating supervisor Bill McCreary, the Hockey Hall of Fame referee. You would imagine it was a relatively one-sided conversation.

Zero balance: This has become a one-line team. Eichel, Jason Pominville and Evander Kane all have 12 points in 12 games. The only other player on the roster who has more than four points is Ryan O'Reilly, with eight. The defensemen don't have a single goal. The club in total has four goals in the last three games.

O is for Okposo: If Kyle Okposo really isn't bothered by the lingering effects of the concussion or scary medication reaction of last April, he needs to start showing it. The Sabres' $42 million free agent has no goals and two points in 10 games and the puck was a hot potato to him multiple times Saturday. The richest free-agent contract in franchise history runs for five more years. The Sabres may be stuck paying Okposo and thus forced to trade Kane. Yikes.

Housley has remained patient: The first-year coach's post-game news conference was an interesting study on Saturday. He wasn't going to slag on his team after a second 3-2 loss in 2 1/2 weeks to a San Jose team that's 16 months removed from the Stanley Cup final. Fair enough.

"It's easy to get negative on our guys, right? Because of our record, I'm sure you guys in media expect more," Housley said. "We all do. But you look at our effort, the way we played the game tonight and it comes down to a mistake. I have to give our guys a lot of credit. They did everything but win tonight."

Reaction here: The Sharks played their backup goalie and were in the final game of a five-game trip before heading home. Win that game.

Hear coach Phil Housley's full news conference below.

 

Glass half full: The Sabres are 3-3-1 since their 0-4-1 start.

Glass half empty: The two-game winning streak that inspired hope is now a two-game losing streak.

Glass half full: Two rallies from three-goal deficits, one leading to a win in Boston and the other an overtime loss in Vegas.

Glass half empty: The Sabres have led after two periods just three times in 12 games. A recipe for a loss most nights.

This defense corps remains woefully thin: Zach Bogosian, Nathan Beaulieu, Josh Jorges and Justin Falk were all out Saturday. Bogosian and Falk have yet to play this year. It would seem Botterill could use another depth acquisition, whether it's from Vegas' surplus or somewhere else.

Good lord, Tennyson: Here's hoping Matt Tennyson stays off Twitter Saturday night. He's getting savaged and rightly so. He misplayed an easy  Pominville pass that led to Joonas Donskoi's breakaway goal that opened the scoring. And he was on the ice for Logan Couture's winnner, failing to close at all on the shooter after Couture had overpowered Jake McCabe.

Tennyson played 21:05 overall and 6:25 of special teams time, far too much for a guy who should be in Rochester. Development in the AHL is all fine and well but if the Sabres have injuries, they need to put Brendan Guhle in Buffalo and stop with the journeymen who can't handle the job. Tennyson has no points and is minus-6. Did Guhle look out of place last year against Washington or Edmonton? Obviously not. No way Tennyson should play Thursday in Arizona. It should either be Guhle or Falk, if he's healthy enough to go.

The power play: Housley & Co. fixed what wasn't broken. The league's No. 1 power play last year entered Saturday 27th. Signs of life came when Housley finally reunited last year's No. 1 unit of Reinhart, Okposo, O'Reilly, Ristolainen and Eichel. It's taken too long. Trying to cause confusion in the attacking zone has only confused Housley's own players. Stay with what worked.

Goaltending issues: You probably want Robin Lehner to make the save on Couture's game-winner. Yes, it was a laser but it was also top shelf with Lehner dropping a shoulder, perhaps to stop a pass. That said, Lehner is at 2.78 and .911 for the season, hardly troublesome when 11 goaltenders elsewhere who have played at least five games are under .905. This team has plenty of problems outside the net. Lehner is a lightning rod for undeserved criticism. He didn't trade himself for a No. 1 pick, former GM Tim Murray did that to him.

Injuries are back to being state secrets: Alex Nylander, Bogosian and Falk have had "day to day" injuries that have now stretched to a month or more. It's obviously a big problem on the ice but it's a credibility issue for the organization, which had made a lot of strides in that area under Dan Bylsma and Murray. Under Botterill and Housley, the flow of information has regressed and there's been several questions of how truthful the coach has actually been at times.

Reporters have seen Evan Rodrigues with a cast on his hand and Jacob Josefson with a boot on his foot for their "day-to-day" ailments as well. It's a bad look for the coach, the GM and the training staff, whose work comes under scrutiny as players don't re-appear in the lineup.

Housley on teaching players to win: "I think it's the culture and the habit that we have to continue to work on in this group. I think deep down these guys really care. It's a great group. These guys work hard but you have to start chiseling away with that."

Sure do.

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