Fourteen years with one organization is something that is almost unheard of. For Lindy Ruff, that is exactly how long he has been with the Buffalo Sabres, but is it now time for a change.
The Buffalo Sabres entered this season expected to compete for the Northeast Division and even the Eastern Conference title, but the first three months of the season have not gone as planned. The Sabres have been riddled with injuries and their goaltending has not been spot on in a while. However, Buffalo is not the only team in this situation yet they seem to bethe only team having the severe struggles that they are.
Just look at the game Saturday night in Pittsburgh. The Penguins were without six “regulars” including the best player in the game, Sidney Crosby. The difference between the Penguins and the Sabres however is that the Pittsburgh players stepped up when needed and led their team to an 8-3 blowout win over Buffalo. Sure people can and will say that Buffalo has more injuries than Pittsburgh, but look at who is missing for each team. The Sabres who are out of the lineup are mostly depth players, with the exception of a couple, whereas the Penguins are missing a few of their top players. In addition to not having Crosby, Pittsburgh is without Jordan Staal, Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek, and Kris Letang just to name a few. The Penguins are without their top three defensemen and two of their top three forwards, yet they are still winning games. It is a sign of the immense amount of talent, but also a sign of the coaching job that Dan Bylsma is doing in the ‘Burgh.
That is when it is time to look at the man behind the bench here in Buffalo. You have to start asking yourself, “Is Ruff really starting to lose his players?”
Go back to the Sabres 5-4 loss to the Flyers a week and a half ago. During the Versus broadcast, Pierre McGuire said something that caught my interest. He said something along the lines of Ruff was yelling at Thomas Vanek for coasting and from the look on Vanek’s face during the incident, it looked as if Vanek was just blowing Ruff off. You can make the excuse that the team was demoralized after blowing a 3-0 lead, but to me it is a sign of a bigger problem. When a team’s top player starts to seemingly ignore what the head coach is telling him, it is never a good sign. If a player of Vanek’s caliber is drowning out Ruff, who’s to say that no one else is doing it.
There has been far too many moments this season in which the team just looks disinterested on the ice, and at times it shows in the post game comments from both players and the coach. Go back to the team’s overtime loss against Ottawa last Wednesday: Lindy Ruff was clearly flustered and was seemingly at a loss for words to describe his feelings about his team’s performance, but he was able to come up with enough words to call out one of his players. Veteran winger Drew Stafford left his man wide open in front of the net which led to the game-winning goal for the Senators. Ruff may have called out Stafford, but Stafford was not quick to fully own up to his bonehead play.
“It was just a pass in front – the D-man went to the net,” Stafford said after the game. When asked if he was the one who had to come down on the Senators defensemen, he was not all too quick to accept the blame, “We need to make sure we collapse….I’m not thinking about that play.”
For a player who was clearly the reason Jared Cowen was open in front of the net for the winning goal, he sure did not show acceptance for his mistake. That is a sign that player and coach are not on the same page.
The players are all saying the right things: “we’re working hard”, “we’ve got to get better”, “we’ll work this out”, but is what they are spewing actually believable or is it typical athlete shtick? Captain Jason Pominville said it best after the team’s loss to the Senators by saying that if they do not get on the same page soon, they are going to keep losing games.
The Sabres have six more games left in the 2011 calendar year, and with the holiday roster freeze starting tomorrow management has to take a serious look at the coaching staff and the player roster and find out what needs to be done to get this team winning. If things do not change soon, a big change could be coming.