The Sabres Observer
by @DaveDavisHockey on 03/08/17 at 11:23 AM ET
In his last 6 starts, Robin Lehner is 1-3-2 with a 3.94 GAA and a save percentage of .874. He's given up at least 5 goals in 3 of those 6 games. Yet at no point has Dan Bylsma dared to test fate by pulling him.
Not after falling behind 3-0 almost 2 weeks ago to Colorado in the first period, not last night after the second period when his underperforming goaltender was behind 4-2 in a still-winnable game against the Flyers, and at no point in between.
It's not crazy to think the January 17th fiasco in Toronto, when Lehner was posing for selfies by the bench and then staring down his coach after playing horribly and being yanked, is still in his head. Lehner made it very clear after that game that he always wants to keep fighting and not be taken out in those situations, sensible shake-things-up-to-jump-start-your-team strategies be damned.
Meanwhile, the once radical theory that Sabres players are consciously or subconsciously diverting a bit from the coaching staff's game plans -- out of confusion, inability, rebellion or indifference -- is actually starting to gain some legs.
There just isn't another reasonable answer available to the question of how so many defensive zone lapses can occur so often in so many games. Last night's parting of the Red Sea for Claude Giroux is Exhibit A.
In a nutshell, the inmates are running the asylum. Bylsma seems unable or unwilling to force his imprint on this group. He does not appear to have control of his team. And it doesn't fare well at all for his future in Buffalo.
It's been written in this space that the former Penguins bench boss is a good coach. I still believe that to be the case, although it was mentioned here that Guy Boucher would've been a better choice. The argument that anyone can win a Stanley Cup with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin is silly, unless we want to start cutting down every coach in history who won championships with great players.
But sometimes there are just bad fits. For whatever reason, it seems as though Bylsma is not a good match with this roster. We've seen good coaches do extremely well in one town and stink it up in another. It's chemistry.
And there are signs the agony of this season is getting to him. Not even a month ago, Bylsma told the media that turnovers by Jack Eichel are better than puck dump-ins because it means the franchise center is trying to be creative. He even mused that he'd bench Eichel if he never coughed up the puck.
Last night, he sat Eichel for a shift after his turnover that resulted in the first Flyers goal. For good measure, he postgame criticized the puck management decisions of the player whose creativity produced 2 goals and 3 points.
When word out of Pittsburgh a few years ago was that Crosby and Malkin were practically crying on each others' shoulders over their frustration with Bylsma, it was brushed off by many with some even labeling them both as coach killers. But combine that with the erratic handling of Eichel and it just might make you wonder.
Game after game, loss after uninspiring loss, we hear the same excuses from the coach and players. They're stunned, they need to learn how to win, they need to stop sitting back with the lead, they aren't aggressive enough on the forecheck, they need to do a better job in front of their goaltender, etc. Beat writers are cutting-and-pasting the cliches because those are the drab talking points they're being fed in the dressing room on a routine basis.
Yet nothing is changing. Well, nothing besides a gradual regression for a team that was hoping to make a playoff push but now will likely fall short of even reaching 80 points.
We can argue all day about whether or not Bylsma is a good coach, but it doesn't matter. He doesn't seem to be a good fit with this group. And being saddled with a poor defense is a valid consideration but can only go so far. The display of what we're seeing from the blueliners is off the charts terrible.
Tim Murray is a fan favorite here in large part because of how up front he is, almost to a fault, during media interviews. Most of his telling conversations have been about his players and not so much on the coaching staff.
But he's in a rough spot right now. He wasn't convinced the Sabres were of playoff-caliber this season, so he sat idly by when the boat started springing leaks in November.
But the team has been dominated on so many nights, and has looked so mentally inept in doing so, that the GM who wasn't in win-now mode is getting intense pressure from much of the fan base to fire the coach who isn't winning now.
If any doubt has seeped into Murray's mind about Bylsma as the long-term answer behind the bench, he needs to make a change no later than this summer. Much is at stake. If the team comes poorly out of the gate seven months from now and he waits until November, next season is also at risk.
Murray has stated that he has his timeline for Buffalo's ascent to greatness, but it's safe to say Sabres fans have their own. Playoffs, or one heck of a valiant effort in almost getting there, by next season. This town has suffered so much with this team that it's hard to blame them for running out of patience.
If the plan today is to ride it out but things don't shape up over the final 15 games, it'll be mandatory during the offseason that Murray bring in someone new with a fresh approach.
If 2017-18 goes down the tubes early on because it took too long to make a coaching change, Murray will be the next one in the crosshairs and nobody will care how good of an interview he is.
Short of a miraculous turn of events during the next month, delaying the inevitable until November is a really bad idea.
Looking to go out for the game? The best fan experience for every Sabres game can be found at Amherst Pizza & Ale House. Have dinner and drinks at the next "Hockey Night in Amherst".
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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.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: [@DaveDavisHockey]