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Sabres Central

Rattled Sabres digging deeper hole

By Rick Anderson
November 3, 2007

The Sabres are digging themselves a deep hole that theyíll have a hard time climbing out of. With the 4-2 loss to the Florida Panthers Friday night, Buffalo is entrenching itself in the basement of the Northeast Division.

After winning 3 games on the road, they lost in overtime to Boston on Thursday and continued their downward spiral Friday night and it doesnít get any easier from here.

"You canít really sugarcoat it. We werenít very good," fumed Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "I thought we were just flat-out awful at times. They got us on the run a little bit and we didnít do a lot about it."

It is hard to pinpoint the exact reason why the Sabres have fallen from first to last in just one season, but it is becoming more and more evident that the loss of Daniel Briere and Chris Drury is a major reason. The two of them combined for 69 goals and 169 points last season. That loss of offensive power is hard to overcome. Even harder is the lack of leadership that slipped through Darcy Regierís hands when he allowed the two co-captains to escape on his watch.

The Sabres are still waiting for someone to step up and fill the leadership void left in the wake of departure of Drury and Briere.  Ruff hasnít found a regular captain, so heís gone back to that fatuous "captain of the month" game he used unsuccessfully a few years back.

It is apparent that no one on the Sabres roster is willing to step up and be the lead guy, someone who will take responsibility of the captainship. Everyone is standing in the back, waiting for the other guy to step forward.

First to last

In just one season, the Sabres have gone opposite directions. Last year, they won their first 10 games and went wire-to-wire as the Eastern Conference leader and winner of the Presidents Trophy. This year has seen the complete opposite and the team is struggling to find their identity.

It goes from the goalie on up. Ryan Miller has not performed up to his stellar standards, but neither has anyone else on the team. The loss of Drury and Briere hurt, but the team seemed to do well when they had injuries to both players and many others on the injury list in past seasons. Not this season as everything seems to rattle the Sabres.

The team seems listless and the loss to the Bruins and Panthers underlines the fact that this team is in trouble and may not make the playoffs this year.

The Sabres, who beat Florida last week, looked flat on Friday. Jocelyn Thibault started in goal, giving Ryan Miller a well deserved night off. Thibault had a rough night and struggled to stay in position on a few of the Panthers goals. But he wasn't the reason the Sabres lost. They couldn't get any penetration on the Florida net and seemed to panic when Florida got the rubber past Thibault to take a 2-1 lead in the second period. The Panthers scored in rapid fashion after that, and only a late Buffalo goal in the third period by Thomas Vanek with a man advantage made the score a little more respectable.

"You canít cut corners here: The second period was awful," reflected Jason Pominville. "We got dominated and weíre not going to win games when we play that way. We try to play one-on-one hockey and turn the puck over. A few missed assignments in our own zone and the puck was in the back of our net. It happens quick."

Brian Campbell, who has been one of the most consistent Sabres, agreed with Pominvilleís assessment.

"It was embarrassing in a lot of senses," acknowledged Campbell after the game. " Itís frustrating. Assignments missed again, a few turnovers here and there. Itís just something this team has to get going together on the same page."

Whatís wrong with Ryan Miller?

Miller is battling the puck these days. Ryan definitely is not the same goaltender who led the Sabres to the Presidents Trophy last season. He is allowing way too many goals through the five-hole. It seems to be the favorite place for opposing teams to score on him.

Tim Thomas, a relatively unknown goalie, completely outplayed Miller in Boston on Thursday. Three out of the 4 goals scored on Miller would have easily been stopped by Thomas. What's wrong with Miller? Maybe he needs a week off to get his head back together. However, the play of Thibault Friday night against the Panthers didnít help matters much.

Miller, who lost his cousin earlier last month and was shocked at that, has got to get back to concentrating on the puck and the game. Back on October 11, Miller dedicated the game against Atlanta to his 18-year old cousin who passed away that week. He had leukemia, but had beaten it. However, a complication to a bone marrow transplant resulted in his death. Miller, who had "Mat Man" painted on the back plate of his goalie mask a couple years ago, played the best he could and got the shutout for his cousin. Since that game, Miller has not been on his game.

Maybe Miller needs a little time to get away from the game and reflect on his game and his family. The Sabres definitely need a solid Miller if they are to ever climb out of the hole they dug themselves so early in the season.

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