What happened to this Buffalo franchise over the course of the last decade? During the honeymoon era of the Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff era the Sabres were a ragged bunch, who were just as satisfied blocking shots and finishing checks as they would have been scoring goals. Those late 90’s teams were relentless, grinding out all 60 minutes of each contest as if it was their last. The Sabres represented the hard working blue collar nature of the people who paid to watch them play. They might not have been as talented as their opponent each and every night, but between effort and steady goaltending they were going to make you earn each and every point.
After the 04’ lockout the Sabres were as talented as their opponent every night, in fact on most nights they boasted significantly more skill than the opposition. Yet the bulldog culture from which this team was born still pumped through their veins, and they didn’t let that talent go to waste.
Somewhere along the line, Buffalo began to believe more in their abilities than their work ethic. The Sabres have proven to be a sloppy team, a lazy team, a team that plays up or down to the strength of their opponent. All of these can be attributed to effort. What was once the hardest working team in the sport, bleeding for the fans that supported them had become a collection of overpaid players stealing their paychecks from a fanbase that expected nothing more than the players to work as hard for their money as they do.
In a season virtually devoid of silver linings, there is one thing to hang a hat on. For the bulk of the past month this team has earned their victories the hard way. They’ve battled in the corners, they’ve turned over pucks on the forecheck, and thrown their limbs in front of oncoming shots. Despite an AHL laden, talent depleted lineup they’ve managed an 8-4-2 record in their last 14 contests.
Whether it was the purging of a perceived soft hearted captain, harsh words by from their franchise netminder, or a valiant effort leading by example from cagey veterans, it has finally sunk in with this team. The only way out of this hole is to grab a shovel and start digging. It likely won’t be enough to sneak into the post-season, which is fine because this team doesn’t deserve to make the playoffs.
What it may be good for, is changing the culture in the locker room. Names will not be named, because this isn’t about any individual, this has to be a team mentality. Any players who fail to get the memo will be purged this summer. Buffalo may have lost quite a bit in terms of veteran skill in the last couple seasons, but regardless of who is on the roster come next September the Sabres will be much better off if they can return to the hard working days of yore. For now they have five games to keep the momentum going, and play a brand of hockey the players can be proud of, and the fans will be proud to support.
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