Monday, March 6, 2017

Narratives for the home stretch

After some duplicitous refereeing and "how come they always play that way against us" goaltending this past weekend, many Sabres fans are scratching their heads - unsure what to think about this team.

What the problem here? Is it the coach (no), is it the Pegulas (no), is it the GM (a bit), is it goaltending (no), the players (yes and no), is it "fake news" (depends who you ask)? 

Are we all Westworld hosts destined to live out the same narratives, year after year?

Fortunately, A Thousand Cuts is here to tell you a few bedtime stories. Some are scary.Some are hopeful. And some are "Sad!"

Dig in Sabres fans cause its going to be a loooong month.

1) A lack of game management
If you follow A Thousand Cuts on Twitter, you know this is a common refrain. The Sabres' game management has been so bad, we had to double check and see if Rex Ryan was behind the bench and Kyle Williams was pointlessly huffing and puffing around the field (or padding his stats in a blowout).

Just like the Bills' "bedrock" players, the Sabres veterans show up on the scoresheet, but haven't stepped up to make big plays when needed. 

Marcus Foligno is near the top of the league in hits, but nowhere to be found when a statement-making check is needed. Gionta can chip in a goal to pad a lead, but he can't find the net when they've just conceded two. Tyler Ennis can have the game of his life, and then disappear for weeks. Matt Moulson can.... he can.... hold on a second.... it'll come....

2) Extra frame boogeymen
While the Sabres have turned around their fortunes in the 3-on-3 extra frame, its the shootout that they stare down the gun barrel at like Ted the glitchy, ill-fated Westworld host in loop after loop.

Robin Lehner is 8-for-8 in shooutout, which sounds good until you realize that's 8 goals on 8 shots. He latest groan-inducing performance was capped off by Nikita Kucherov's game-winning phantom stickhandle, a move usually not seen outside of skate-and-shoot.

3) Special special teams
If there's going to be a bright spot to the season, its looking like the special team are a strong candidate. From last in the league for 2016-17, the Sabres' PP now sits at 2nd overall. Fans not willing to credit Bylsma in the powerplay's resurgence might want to look at his last three seasons with Pittsburgh, where the PP was 5th, 2nd and 1st.

The penalty kill currently sits near the bottom of the league, but that ranking is mostly because of a turgid start. Since the All-Star break, the PK has been 13th overall. Its a big turnaround that you might give the coaching staff credit for making. Might.

4) Comparing rebuilds and franchise players
Self-loathing Sabres fans like to point to Toronto and Auston Matthews as evidence that their hockey club is somehow doing it wrong. They also like to point to Edmonton and Connor McDavid or Winnipeg and Patrick Laine.

First of all, Eichel is a top-10 point producer since coming back from injury. Of the three franchise player just mentioned, only McDavid ranks above him.

Second, the Sabres are 5 points out of a playoff spot, not too bad considering Eichel missed the first 21 games. By comparison, the Leafs are 1 point out, with Matthews missing 0 games, and Jets are 3 points out, with Laine having missed 6 games. McDavid hasn't missed a single game for Edmonton, who have a 10-point cushion and look to make the playoffs.

Bottom line, and in light of Eichel's missed time, the Sabres' rebuild is on schedule, which is probably little comfort after this weekend.

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