Sabres continue to start off on wrong foot
As the points piled up for Sam Reinhart down the stretch, he was left with a sorrowful lament.
“It would have been nice to play some meaningful games at the end of the season,” Reinhart said.
They were all meaningless, and the Buffalo Sabres forward knew one of the biggest reasons why.
“It just takes more from the beginning,” Reinhart said, “everyone coming in ready to go, ready to fully compete on a consistent basis.”
Once again, the Sabres doomed themselves from the drop of the puck. They started 0-4-1, slid to 5-13-4 and 6-17-4.
“You lose a few games in the beginning of the year, you start questioning a lot of things that you do,” center Jack Eichel said. “Then you’re trying to dig yourself out the whole year. We were just never able to get ourselves out of the hole.”
Few teams do.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman has tracked Nov. 1 as a key date on the NHL schedule. If teams are four or more points out a playoff spot after games played on that date, they are all but toast. Friedman notes 54 teams have been in that position since 2005-06. Only seven have rallied to make the playoffs.
Here are the Sabres’ starts during the past five seasons, plus their records through 20, 30 and 41 games (the midway point):
* 2013-14: 0-6-1; 4-15-1; 6-22-2; 11-26-4.
* 2014-15: 1-7; 5-13-2; 12-16-2; 14-24-3.
* 2015-16: 1-4; 8-10-2; 12-15-3; 15-22-4.
* 2016-17: 1-3-2; 7-8-5; 12-11-7; 16-16-9.
* 2017-18: 0-4-1; 5-11-4; 7-17-6; 10-22-9.
“When I see the situation that we’re in, we’ve got to start fast,” defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen said. “We can’t start like that. I feel like every year I’ve been here we’ve started slowly.
“In the situation that we’re in, I don’t think we can start slowly. We’ve got to start quick. We need those wins quick. It’s tough when that happens right away.”
It was especially tough this year. New coach Phil Housley was introducing a system and mindset, and a few early wins could have proved that his ideas worked. Instead, the Sabres stumbled, lost faith and went back to their old mindset.
“Obviously, when you get a start like you did this year,” Housley said, “that doesn’t help because that has a big effect on the players that have been here in the past. It’s hard to overcome. That’s why I think the question is: What are we willing to change to change?
“When you’ve been in this environment and you start to lose, there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on you as an individual.”
Housley has vowed to make training camp tougher and more intense next season. He hopes it leads to a much-needed better start.
“That’s going to be really important for us,” Housley said, “because then you can get some confidence moving forward.”