Nothing has gone right for the Buffalo Sabres this year — and considering the state of their season, that feels like a gross understatement.
The club is currently riding an eleven-game losing streak, dating back to Feb. 25. Including back-to-back shutout losses Saturday and Monday, they've been shut out four times during that span — all four on home ice. The Buffalo News' power rankings has the Sabres at No. 32, even below the rosterless Seattle Kraken who aren't due to hit the ice til the fall.
During his post-game media availability following Monday's 6-0 loss to Washington, Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger did his best to put into words the club's current state of mind, and it painted a very bleak picture:
“We are in a definitely negative funk right now, and I only know one thing — that’s to fight," he told reporters. "It feels like we're in a very deep, dark place right now, and the only way we get into any light is keeping the fight in the team and sticking together. We're not going to get any outside help or pity. This division is ruthless, every team ready every night."
Indeed, the odds have been stacked against the Sabres from the beginning. Divisional realignment saw them dropped into an East Division even tougher than their usual Atlantic, with Metropolitan powers like the New York Islanders, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers making even the Boston Bruins’ post-season projections feel uncertain.
A widespread COVID outbreak sidelined operations for two full weeks to open February, and injuries — including one that has captain Jack Eichel out for the foreseeable future — have only added to the struggles.
Now at 6-17-4, it certainly looks like things have bottomed out. A particularly lifeless defensive play against the Washington Capitals Monday night showed a disengaged Sabres team:
“It’s not a good result tonight, I don’t know what you want me to say about that," a visibly frustrated Sam Reinhart said after the game when pressed about proving the team had not quit on one another, its coach, or its fans. "Love the group of guys, love the coach. You know, the result isn’t good enough.”
Even if they wanted to bring in reinforcements from their AHL affiliate in Rochester, they can't — a COVID outbreak among the Americans has recalls on hold.
“I have one job here, and that’s to work with the players that are on our roster and the players that are here on our taxi squad, and this is what we will do again (Tuesday),” Krueger said.
The pressure will only continue to mount. The Sabres face the Devils on Tuesday night in New Jersey, and their next home games will be their first with spectators in the stands. This Thursday, the club will welcome frontline workers to take in the game, followed by an official re-opening to (limited) fans this Saturday as more NHL rinks begin to open up seats.