Gross Misconduct Hockey Thoughts from a drifter on the hockey landscape

01/31/2015

Witness missives on losing

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Joe Yerdon @ 2:10 PM

It’s incredible to cover a team that loses as much as the Buffalo Sabres do.

I mean that. Something that’s been said often amongst fellow writers in Buffalo is if you’re going to be following a team you want to have a championship squad or the absolute worst because you’ll never be without a story. And really, when you’re a writer that’s all you’re looking for is the story. Something of interest.

When covering a team that’s lost as much as the Sabres have the past two seasons, it felt like I’d reached that Twilight Zone moment where it dawns on you that, yes, you’re covering the best hockey league in the world after the Sabres dropped a 5-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night.

It was Buffalo’s 14th straight loss, all in regulation. Their last win came on Dec. 27, 2014 against the New York Islanders in a shootout. Let’s flash back to that game, shall we? The Sabres were down 3-0 in the third period but stormed back with a three-goal third to force overtime and then went on to win in the shootout. It’s the kind of win a team can rally around and be beyond proud of. It was also a win that ended a four-game losing streak.

Think about that. If they’d gone on to meekly lose that game to the Islanders, this losing streak could’ve been at 19 straight. They would’ve broke the NHL record for consecutive losses, 17, held by the 1974-1975 Washington Capitals and 1992-1993 San Jose Sharks. It’s gotten to the point now where they’re the butt of jokes while the season is still going on.

When I got to Buffalo before the start of last season, I knew they weren’t going to be a great team. That wasn’t the point of this after all. The point was I needed another gig to help make money and I wanted to do more reporting. Win-win situation and the experience has been incredible.

But this year is different. This season, fans want to see the Sabres falter and finish dead last in the league. I get why. Generational players don’t come along much and the only way to guarantee the best shot at getting Connor McDavid is to be the absolute worst.

Last season, Buffalo was bad. They finished 21-51-10, the worst record in the league, and then added one more loss when the Florida Panthers won the NHL Draft Lottery. That didn’t hurt because the Sabres still got the guy at the top of their board at No. 2 in Sam Reinhart.

Still, watching a team you see day in and day out as part of your beat solely in Buffalo lose is hard.

The Sabres went 12-20-5 at First Niagara Center with me in attendance as I split my duties between Buffalo and Toronto in 2013-2014. They also lost 3-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins on my one road visit (outside of Toronto) on Jan. 27, 2014. Buffalo scored 150 goals last season, less than two goals per game. Their goal differential was minus-93 and they dressed nine different goalies during the year.

This season somehow has been worse and incredibly I haven’t seen the worst of it in Buffalo proper. The Sabres are 10-13-2 at home and an astonishing in the shootout era 4-20-1 on the road. They’re the worst team in the league and yet they’re 6-1 in shootouts. They could be that much worse.

They’ve played 50 games and have 88 goals. Their goal differential is already minus-90. They’ve nearly caught last season’s abysmal total and there are 32 games left to go. They have the NHL’s worst power play and penalty kill. They give up an average of 35 shots per game and take 22.9. They’re outgunned in all aspects and no matter how well the goalies play, they have to be perfect.

It’s astounding. I get that it’s a blessing as a writer to get a situation like this to witness, especially when there might be a big payoff with McDavid or Jack Eichel in the end, but it doesn’t make the part about paying witness to the process any easier. It’s like the old cliché about not wanting to see how the sausage is made, but we’re right smack on the killing floor watching it happen anyway.

Harvey Dent would say the “night is darkest just before the dawn” but you can’t help but feel that maybe you’re stuck in an Alaskan winter.

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