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Skinner injury is the latest reason that it's hard to have any faith in the Sabres

Mike Harrington

It's hard to believe one game can promote such a sense of hopelessness. That's what happened Friday night and it got inexorably worse Saturday morning.

But that's the feeling you get from the Buffalo Sabres, thanks to years of losing hockey and years of belief-sapping inefficiency from the front office and behind the bench.

The standings didn't change Friday night. You might not believe it, but the Sabres are still just one point out of a playoff spot even after their disheartening 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in KeyBank Center.

Sometimes one point is one point. Sometimes it feels like 10 points. Or maybe even more.

The Sabres' rollercoaster ride is back in another dip – 1-4-1 in the last six games and only five goals over the last four. And now comes the dark news about Jeff Skinner.

The Sabres' $72 million man still can't put the puck in the net but he was dynamite the last three games and you could feel the breakout coming. Then he ragdolled off Boston's David Pastrnak early in the third period, hit the ice hard in front of the Sabres' bench and went gingerly down the tunnel.

It didn't look good at the time and the news Saturday morning was not unexpected. An upper-body injury (presumably to the shoulder or collarbone) and a timeline of 3-4 weeks. Skinner's goal drought that dates to Dec. 2 might start to approach Valentine's Day.

It was an ugly way for Skinner's 700th NHL game to end. It's disheartening to see Skinner go down now. After being virtually a zero for an eight-game stretch, Skinner started to find his game last Saturday against Los Angeles.

He was really moving Monday in Ottawa and again Friday night, helping to set up Marcus Johansson for several good scoring chances.

"The motor was Jeff," said coach Ralph Krueger.

What do the Sabres do now? C.J. Smith is probably your answer in Rochester for the time being but the Amerks don't have many prospects up front at all.

And GM Jason Botterill has again overplayed his hand.  The summer was the time to break up his logjam on defense and get some help at forward. He got Marcus Johansson and Jimmy Vesey and we've seen the results there.

Botterill has had weeks to do something here -- including getting the disgruntled Zach Bogosian out of town -- and hasn't pulled anything off. This time, he's really stuck. Seriously now, what NHL GM would trade Botterill a good forward at this point and get the Sabres out of what looks like a hopeless pickle?

So much seems wrong here. Casey Mittelstadt is in Rochester, where he has one measly assist in four games. Krueger has been stubborn to a fault about not loading up his top line with Skinner, Jack Eichel and Victor Olofsson but that very-needed conversation is now on hold.

The Sabres have 41 points and the games in hand are starting to bite them now. Tampa Bay (40 points) has four of those on Buffalo, a very odd bit of scheduling considering the Lightning should have been dealt the similarly difficult scheduling hand caused by the Sweden trip but clearly have yet to feel it. Florida (41) has three games in hand and Montreal (42) has two.

Now, you can't assume all those games in hands are going to victories. Some will be losses. But there will be some points gleaned there to put the Sabres further into arrears in the division.

In this game, Eichel had eight shot attempts but only two were on goal. Skinner and Johansson were excellent. Sam Reinhart was colossally soft with the puck. Is Botterill really going to pay him big money this summer? And Vesey committed a grievous turnover in his own zone against Boston's top line that led to Patrice Bergeron's second goal.

The Bruins had to travel the morning of the game and they looked a little sluggish in the first period. Bergeron's first goal, on a power play with 21 seconds left in the first period, gave them pretty of spring into the dressing room, and plenty of jump when they got back to the ice for the second period.

Krueger, meanwhile, said "the PK breakdown sent shockwaves through us."

That's what happens to fragile teams. And that's how good teams capitalize.

Johansson's line is finally getting golden opportunities to score. That's the first step in slump-snapping. But without Skinner, it's anybody's guess what will happen now.

"You just have to keep working. If we play like we have the last couple of games, I think we'll score a lot of goals," Johansson said. "And that's what happens when you kind of lose your confidence a little bit too. You're gripping the stick a little tighter and you don't have that poise as you normally do when you get a chance. That comes to making plays too, whether you shoot it or you don't."

Confidence seems in short supply in the dressing room. Panic is in full supply among the fan base. The roster freeze is over now and the GM can start making moves. The coach has to snap his team out of its funk. He did it after a 1-7-1 rut in November largely caused by an injury run. He's going to have to do it again.

It's just a hard team to believe in. Boston has been in three Stanley Cup finals in this decade. The Sabres have watched lots of TV starting each April since 2011. The difference was obvious Friday night even before Skinner got hurt.

And now? With no Skinner for a while? Let's see what happens when the teams reconvene Sunday night in Boston. Might not be very pretty.

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