Share this article

print logo

Mike Harrington: Sabres fans finally get some rewards, make some noise

We've reached the Chicken vs. the Egg portion of the program when it comes to Sabres games in KeyBank Center.

The fans make no noise, numbed to silence by the abhorrent cold in the downtown arena and the lack of excitement on the ice. The players get no push from the crowd to help them get off to a rousing start or through rough patches of a game.

You can't blame the paying customers anymore. They're in complete prove-it mode here after too many years of empty promises.

Then a funny thing happened in the second period Tuesday night against Ottawa: The Sabres started making plays and the fans started making noise.

Amazing how that works.

Just when we've all become obssessed with NFL wild-card tiebreakers, the Sabres have quietly put together a 2-0-2 stretch that's their best of the season after Tuesday's 3-2 win over the Senators. We all knew Jason Botterill waited a month too long to dump pointless Matt Moulson, but no one could have told you the dressing room would respond like this.

The Central Division road trip was encouraging. A solid two-way game produced a win in Colorado and some fabulous work by Robin Lehner got the Sabres points in Chicago (where they probably didn't deserve one) and in St. Louis, where you give them full marks for wiping out a 2-0 deficit in the third period against a team that will be playing deep into the spring.

The Sabres have points in four straight, a power-play goal in three straight, a penalty kill that's 19 for its last 23 thanks in part to a hot goalie. Little by little, you see some momentum building here. Finally.

"When we're not playing good enough, when you're playing terrible, you really can't expect to be supported," said Zemgus Girgensons, a key part to a 5-on-3 penalty kill in that second period. "The fans deserve for us to be better and to be winning. I think we did a really good job today as a group. It was fun hockey and I bet it was fun to watch. We have to bring that a lot more for these fans."

Sabres' short-handed unit demonstrates killer instinct

The Sabres, in general, have played with far more spirit and spunk on the road this year than at home. Buffalo entered play Tuesday just 3-9-1 at home and tied with Arizona for the fewest wins in the NHL in its own rink. You think of the some of the road games and you wonder why can't there be more of that kind of action.

There were big comebacks in Vegas and Boston that led to a 1-1 split of overtime decisions. The loss to Los Angeles in the final two minutes, and the OT defeats in Pittsburgh, Chicago and St. Louis were all credible performances in front of big, noisy crowds. It's as if the Sabres thrived on the atmosphere.

Then think of the sounds of silence we deal with here. Maybe there was 10,000 folks in the house Tuesday. Too many people with tickets don't show up. Weeknights suddenly seem like no-gos to lots of folks. The weather is getting cold (although you may have noticed 40,000-plus sat outside for hours in a blizzard Sunday).

That point was made on Twitter and a friend responded, "Yeah, but I'm here at the arena, and it may be colder in here than it was outside Sunday."

He has a point. It's freezing all over in KeyBank Center. In the 100 level. In the 300 level. In the press box. There's no excuse for it. The Sabres have to fix that. It's not like that in other cities, even places that are freezing outside like Winnipeg or Montreal.

When they renovate this place -- and they're going to -- something has to be done about spectator comfort. You can make good ice without freezing the customers out. It's done all over the league. Figure it out.

The Wraparound: Sabres 3, Senators 2

Now, about the play on the ice. The Sabres were 1-6 in the previous seven home games entering Tuesday. They had 11 goals in those seven games and were shut out in their previous two appearances. In fact, they had gone 145 minutes, 4 seconds at home without a single goal before Benoit Pouliot spectacular solo effort opened the scoring in this one at 4:13 of the second period.

Kyle Okposo made it 2-0 and then the Sabres killed the 5-on-3, with Girgensons and newcomer Scott Wilson out top. Rasmus Ristolainen and Lehner did the work down low.

"You just try to do anything you can," Girgensons said. "Block pucks with anything you can, pray for a couple bad bounces for them. You stick with it and do what you can. 'Lenny' did an unbelievable job too."

The fans really got the volume going on Evander Kane's one-timer that made it 3-0. Lo and behold, the Sabres have now scored a power-play goal in three straight games after going 0 for 29 in the 10 games before that. And they got a rousing ovation at the second-period horn.

"We owe them. They've been very patient," coach Phil Housley said of the fans. "We've deserved the boos when we got booed."

Now, not to throw water on the party, but you do have to point out a few things about the Senators.

It was the seventh game of a seven-game road trip that included trips to Winnipeg and Buffalo around the Sens' annual three games in California. Ottawa ended the trip 1-5-1, going 0-4-1 in the last five and getting shut out in three of those games. Wow. They're 1-10-2 in their last 13.

And remember, this is a team that lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final at Pittsburgh in double overtime just over six months ago. Sounds very fluky now. Ottawa is desperate to salvage its season. The Sabres are building things slowly. They're getting results. They might even start to win some fans back, one game at a time.

"The fans are starving for a winner here and we want to make sure we've giving them 100 percent effort here every night," Okposo said. "If we do that, we're going to have success here on home ice."

Story topics: / /

There are no comments - be the first to comment