There are fun days at the rink. Then there was Monday.
It’s a good thing the Sabres didn’t skate or they might have tripped on their bottom lip. The players looked battered and sounded defeated. The beatings they’re absorbing have taken a toll.
“I’m hoping that we’ve had enough pain and enough anguish to maybe turn a corner in learning how to play and win these hockey games,” coach Dan Bylsma said.
Buffalo has won just once in the past seven games, coughing up three third-period leads along the way. They’ll return to the ice Tuesday when Philadelphia visits KeyBank Center.
When you read between the lines, the Sabres’ playoff chances range from slim to none. When you look at it in black and white, Buffalo is just a handful of points out with 16 games left.
That’s what was gnawing at the players Monday in their painfully quiet arena.
“Especially with how close the playoff race is, it’s frustrating,” defenseman Jake McCabe said. “We could be right there. We could be knocking on the door. We’re still not out of it, and that’s what’s frustrating.
“If we could string more together here – and we very well should have – then we’re going to be right there. That’s what the really frustrating part is.”
The Sabres have coughed up point after point this season. First, it was shootouts. Lately, it’s an inability to hold leads.
The coup de grace was Sunday in Pittsburgh, where the Sabres jumped to a 3-0 lead and lost, 4-3, after allowing two goals in the final four minutes.
“To let that slip away in the position we’re in, it’s disappointing,” defenseman Josh Gorges said. “We have to find ways to get wins. We come out, we have a good start and – I don’t want to say we stopped playing – we don’t play enough. We don’t do enough to get ourselves a win.”
The letdowns have been plentiful during the Sabres’ 1-4-2 slide, which includes a 1-3-2 record since their bye week. They lost third-period leads to Arizona and Nashville, then dropped a shootout to Tampa Bay.
“We’ve played six games since the break, we could easily be 6-0 if you look at the scenarios we’ve been in,” left wing Evander Kane said. “Disappointing? That’s one word to use.”
Losing to the Penguins would be one thing. They’re the defending Stanley Cup champs and nearly unbeatable at home. But when that disappointment follows the other recent collapses, it leads to long, dreary days.
“Am I satisfied with the progress? No, I’m not satisfied with the progress,” Bylsma said. “The next step is learning how to win, learning how to win those games. It’s not just playing shinny hockey and at the end of the game you check the scoreboard to see who won. You’ve got to learn how to win these types of hockey games.
“This is the time of year when every game is critical. Playing the Pittsburgh Penguins, they’re fighting for points, too. Yes, they’re in a spot and yes, they’re where they’re at, but they’re fighting for their points that they want and they need. That’s what the game had a feel of. Those are games and situations we have to learn how to win in and learn how to play in.”
Learning, however, is meaningless if people don’t remember what they learn. The Sabres went 8-3-2 during the final 13 games last season. They talked of learning how to win and wanted to use it as a springboard into this season.
Instead, they continue to lose winnable games.
“I guess we haven’t learned right now because it’s happened so many times already,” defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen said. “I like winning. I don’t know if anyone likes losing in here. Why would you play if you don’t hate losing? That’s the worst thing, that you can lose to someone or someone was better than you.
“Last night, they won, so I guess they were a little better. I hate that feeling.”