^^ Here's an audio version of the story because reading is about as overrated as Dion Phaneuf. ^^
These are the words of Buffalo Sabres star forward, Ryan O’Reilly following the team’s 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 23. The Sabres led the Blues 1-0 going into the third period, and this was the first time they’d lost a game with that third period lead. It was also the first time the Blues won after trailing heading into the third. The loss was not necessarily surprising, as St. Louis sits in second place in the west, but it was disappointing. Fans may take solace in moral victories, but players like O’Reilly do not.
Another jarring quote from O’Reilly’s postgame comments. It appears that youth and inexperience might be a factor - the younger players may be too unwilling to take a chance and make a mistake. What will it take for this team to develop that killer instinct? To always be pressing forward, getting to the net and getting dirty, netting three goals in a period and not letting off of the pedal? I don’t believe that it’s coaching – Bylsma’s Stanley Cup winning Penguins team was 4th in the league in goals for in 2008-2009, but 18th in goals against (9th in goal differential.) That team had Crosby & Malkin, of course, but the point is that they weren’t afraid to take a chance for the sake of a good offensive rush.
Is it a question of leadership? I don’t want to jump onto the bandwagon and call for Brian Gionta’s retirement, but I also don’t want to climb aboard Gionta’s burning, sinking ship. His play has been mediocre at best, and while no one is expecting Gionta to be ripping slappers by opposing goalies, fans are expecting him to do something – to show something. I have been calling for Bylsma to solidify lines since the beginning of the season, but it is baffling that Gionta is still getting first line minutes. He looks tired, and a little uncoordinated. He is making mistakes that he doesn’t normally make. He looks like he needs a rest.
O’Reilly is not wrong. The Sabres have been bitten by bad bounces, for sure – a lot of posts have been rung. Last night, a saucer pass from Sam Reinhart skips off of the ice and over Eichel’s blade, eliciting a collective “uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuggggghhhh” from the crowd – not only at the arena, but in bars and couches all across our fair city. In his defense, he’s done his part. He’s got three goals in those five losses, including one on the power play. The line of Eichel, Reinhart, and Kane; however, have a combined two points in those five games. Again – leadership. There is a lot that has been said about the maturity of Eichel and Reinhart but they are kids, and a lot has also been said about the immaturity of Kane. I think that line lacks an anchor. When they go start to squeeze the stick, when they start to try to take it upon themselves – when they are floating too far off course, the anchor is there to bring them back in, keep them grounded, and steel their resolve.
It's nice to hear O'Reilly roar and hopefully shake up the locker room a bit. Of course, we as fans need to be patient. We’re seeing improvement from last season, and the teams the Sabres have played in the last five games have been tough opponents – they are one, two, and three in the Western Conference. The competition in the next five games is not quite as impressive – two against Nashville (6th in the west,) one against Carolina (who we are tied with in the standings,) one against Detroit (6th in the east,) and finally Edmonton, who is last in the league. These are five games that could define our season. Carolina and Detroit are teams we’ll be fighting with for a playoff spot. Proving ourselves against middle-of-the-pack teams like Nashville will boost our confidence – set a precedent that the west doesn’t own us. And Edmonton. We just to beat Edmonton, right? If we misfire against Edmonton, we’ll never hear the end of it. Of course, Buffalo getting called out in the national media is always great for some rage-writing. So stay tuned. These next few weeks could be really fun – either on the ice, or on the blog.