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The Sabres Observer

19-20-5 Just Feels Different This Year

One year ago today, the Sabres were in a 19-20-5 hole following an ugly Saturday night loss to the New York Islanders.  They were 8 points out of a playoff spot at the time, but there was still some optimism that Buffalo had a run in them. 

Sure enough, the team that some were ready to peg as players in the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins lottery ended up coming within 10 minutes of knocking the Philadelphia Flyers out of the playoffs.

It’s been an identical underwhelming 44 game ride to start the 2011-12 campaign, but these are not your older brother’s 19-20-5 Buffalo Sabres.  With a brutal road schedule on tap for this week starting tonight in Detroit, combined with everything else that’s gone wrong during this nightmare of a season, the playoffs are looking like a pipe dream.

There are three reasons why the hope tank is half empty this time around.

For starters, Buffalo was 5-2-1 in their previous 8 games at this point last year.  That run they needed for a playoff push had already started.  There isn’t a whole lot with this year’s group that leads you to believe they have any chance to even put up a fight tonight against the Red Wings, much less battle back into playoff picture relevancy.

Secondly, the goaltending situation is less stable.  Whether due to injuries, lack of focus, or any other excuse your friendly neighborhood sportswriter or fan sitting at the bar can give you, there are no illusions here about what’s happening in net.  Ryan Miller is a shadow of his former self, and Jhonas Enroth hasn’t played well enough to take his job.

Last but certainly not least, and with sincere apologies to those who want to blow up the entire team and start over, nothing has hurt the Sabres more this season than injuries.  Not the coaching of Lindy Ruff, not the failure of Darcy Regier to make trades, and not the disappearing acts of Derek Roy and Drew Stafford.

It’s tiring to hear people repeatedly brush aside the beating this lineup has taken during this entire slump, even as more players continue to go down.  The latest is Robyn Regehr, who would’ve been a pretty valuable guy to have on the blue line tonight against those potent Detroit forwards.

Now Terry Pegula is trying to show some leadership by not bashing his team for the sake of satisfying some headline-seeking writers.  Sorry if it’s not sexy enough print copy for you, but the stuff he’s talking about regarding injuries is true.  And if my owner gets to a point where he desperately wants Regier to shake things up, I certainly won’t appreciate him giving up some leverage by frantically spouting off to the media about his intentions.

If you want an honest opinion about this roster, call me when half the defense isn’t consistently sidelined.  Let me know when Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe, the two secondary scorers who added a much needed speed element to Buffalo’s attack last season and were big players in the late season surge, can both stay healthy enough to play five games together.  Look me up when all of those prospects who were slated for seasoning in Rochester are actually playing in Rochester.

Until then, keep convincing yourself that the Sabres wouldn’t be at least 8 points better under normal circumstances.  And keep those sexy headlines coming.

Follow The Sabres Observer on Twitter: @DaveDavisHockey

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Great write up.  You comments about injuries is, unfortunately, a fair one.  The upside is that the Sabres have a great idea what they have in the pipeline; the downside is how they gained that insight.  The future, beyond this year is bright.  It may even turn out that Pegula, Black, et al. having to handle all of this adversity in their first year will focus their thoughts in subsequent ones.

Posted by Charles from Chicago on 01/17/12 at 02:38 PM ET

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About The Sabres Observer

Dave Davis has covered the Buffalo Sabres for various NHL accredited websites and newspapers since 2003.  He was the senior writer and Sabres correspondent for The Fourth Period, covered hockey for Western New York Sports and Leisure Magazine, and has had articles featured on NHL.com, FOX Sports, Yahoo Sports and in New York Sportscene.  Sabres news and notes can be found on his Twitter page.

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Email: dd@kuklaskorner.com Twitter: [@DaveDavisHockey]