When he got to town last February, Brad Boyes was a symbol of all that was supposed to be different and better under new owner Terry Pegula's open-checkbook approach to building the Buffalo Sabres into a Stanley Cup contender.
Boyes was a trade deadline acquisition with a $4 million contract that had another year to run. That was the kind of deal the Sabres never made under Tom Golisano and showed Pegula meant business. At least, that's what conventional wisdom said.
A year later, Boyes is a symbol of a much different kind rampant in the Buffalo locker room. He's simply playing like money poorly spent.
Boyes has just three goals in 34 games this season -- and only one in his last 25. He has eight in 55 games with Buffalo the last two years and just nine in 62 games if you count his one-goal output in last year's playoffs.
"Without a doubt, I'm letting guys down," Boyes said here Friday on the eve of the Sabres' game against his former team, the red-hot St. Louis Blues. "You're here for a reason. Everybody has a role to play. I'm no exception. I look at myself. I'm real disappointed with the way things are going. But whatever happens in the past is past. I have to figure out real quick how to help out."
Boyes had back-to-back seasons of 43 and 33 goals for the Blues in 2007-08 and 2008-09. Maybe going back to the Scottrade Center for the sinking Sabres' game tonight can provide him a spark and help Buffalo avoid a 12th straight regulation road loss.
The thinking was that he was out of position last year at center and that was hurting his production. Next case. He's spent most of his time this year on the wing and isn't producing again.
Boyes, in fact, has just one point in the last nine games, a nifty feed to Jason Pominville for a power-play goal Wednesday in Chicago. But one thing that's improving are his scoring chances, as he has 11 shots on goal over the last four games.
"His strength is from the top of the circle down although the game has gotten so crowded from the top down that some players are having a tougher time," said coach Lindy Ruff. "I think he's fallen into that category. When we get him ice, he's done a nice job for us on the power play. The way other teams have been collapsing, it's tough on guys like Brad."
Boyes found plenty of synergy in St. Louis playing on a line with veterans like Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk. He hasn't found a home here, getting constantly shuffled around and ending up at times on the fourth line where there aren't many scoring chances.
"Power play definitely helps," he said. "Playing with [Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville] on the power play helps a lot. You get a sense of where they're going to be."
The Sabres have just never been able to get a breakthrough play from Boyes that would allow him to earn more ice time.
"It's real frustrating. It's tough," he said. "You're looking at it that we need a goal. It's a tight game. It's 2-2 in [Wednesday's 6-2 loss at] Chicago, it's 1-1 [in Thursday's 4-1 loss in Winnipeg] and can go one way or the other. I look at myself every game to do that."
The way their offense is going right now, the Sabres could not have picked a worse time to be playing under the shadow of the Gateway Arch.
The Blues are an NHL-best 20-3-3 at home this year and have earned points in a franchise-record 14 straight home games (12-0-2) as they've been completely transformed since Ken Hitchcock took over as coach in November. They are 7-0-1 overall in January and lead the league with nine shutouts.
Goaltender Jaroslav Halak has posted back-to-back 1-0 shutouts this week and hasn't given up a goal in 148 minutes, 25 seconds. Thanks to Halak and all-star teammate Brian Elliott, St. Louis leads the league with a 1.94 goals-against-average.
The Blues haven't allowed a single third-period goal in the last 10 games -- three shy of the NHL record set by the 1928-29 Montreal Maroons.
The Sabres didn't arrive from Winnipeg until nearly 3 a.m. so Ruff opted against a full practice, instead doing extra film work. A few players, including several from the injured list, then skated for about 45 minutes.
Ruff said Patrick Kaleta, who was struck on the foot by a shot in Winnipeg, is doing much better and will likely play tonight. The Sabres will not call up a forward from Rochester, with Ruff indicating he could use 6-foot-8 Joe Finley as an option up front if Kaleta can't go.
It's likely that Paul Gaustad, Robyn Regher and Christian Ehrhoff will all sit out the next two games so they can add another week of recovery time from the All-Star Break to get over their ailments. Tyler Ennis, who has played just eight games since October due to a recurring high ankle sprain, is back skating again and feeling better but still not close to playing.