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Sabres know they have to earn fans' trust, make Buffalo loud again

Jason Pominville is the only player who knows, so his Buffalo Sabres teammates ask him a lot.

This arena gets loud? What is it like to play in when the fans are involved?

"I've tried to answer it as best as I can," Pominville said in KeyBank Center, which has been likened to a library and morgue. "I've seen the other side of it. This city is amazing when you win. It's definitely tough when you lose. We saw it this year, and then look at the Bills. It was pretty amazing to see how everyone hopped on board with them, which was great.

"But I still feel this is a hockey city. When you win, there's probably no better place to play."

Alas, wins in Buffalo have been as rare as rollicking nights. The Sabres won just 11 of their 40 home games. They were outscored, 136-89. They averaged just 2.2 goals per home game, including six shutouts and eight one-goal outings.

So, yeah, it was quiet, especially compared to Pominville's winning heyday of the mid-2000s.

"The fans can sense that guys are working and guys are playing well, and we just didn't have it," right wing Kyle Okposo said. "Understandably so as a fan, they're quiet because we're not doing the work. We're not playing with that edge. We're not playing with that jam that we need to electrify the building.

"That's all on us. That's all on our play. It wasn't good enough at home."

It didn't take long for fans to stop caring and, by extension, stop coming. Buffalo had its lowest announced attendance average in 12 years, and the tickets-sold count of 17,982 was well above the number of fans in the seats.

"We're going to have to earn their trust back," coach Phil Housley said. "It's providing a good, solid effort every night and a commitment in that area. The guys know that we all have to be better here at home. That was very, very disappointing the record at home here for our fans."

What's next for Buffalo's aging KeyBank Center?

While fan comforts have been diminishing as the arena ages, the back rooms of the building are glistening. The players have lounges, top-notch workout facilities and accomplished chefs who serve them breakfast and lunch.

Have the luxuries provided by owners Terry and Kim Pegula made them too comfortable to give an acceptable effort?

"The organization, the team does a lot for us," center Jack Eichel said. "I think we're grateful for it. Talking to other guys around the league, we're very lucky to have owners like we have and play for a team like we do. The Pegulas do some pretty remarkable things for us as a team.

"I don't think anybody takes that for granted, but maybe we need to understand how lucky we have it and how good of an organization, how good of a team we play for. We just have to start making something more of it. To have the lack of success that we've had, honestly it's unacceptable."

The Sabres will soon send out season-ticket invoices. Anecdotal evidence suggests the arena will be even emptier next year. The Sabres are in a hockey city, but the fans haven't been given an acceptable hockey team.

"We feel their pain," General Manager Jason Botterill said. "There's some things that I'm excited about in this organization. The development of Casey Mittelstadt, what's going on in Rochester, some of our young talent, but I'm also aware we have to earn their respect back. It can't just be about words. We have to have better results."

How do you sell Sabres tickets that no one wants? You don't.

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