With the Buffalo Sabres set to occupy the spoiler role for the final couple months of the NHL season, players and coaches alike are looking within to see what players will bring enough energy to the ice to warrant a future with Buffalo.
Based on their effort Wednesday night, few of the current players on the roster would deserve such a status. The Sabres were largely star-struck in their 5-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sure, they were overmatched, but they also set themselves on cruise control once the Pens began to assert themselves in the second period. Buffalo has one last shot before the Olympic break to leave fans with a good taste, playing at the Ottawa Senators Thursday (7:30 p.m., MSG). But the Sabres seen set to hit the golf course with nearly a third of the season remaining.
Captain Steve Ott, one of the few players to deliver a consistent game Wednesday, quickly stepped to his teammates' defense:
"There's no lack of passion," he said, speaking to a reporter in the locker with more passion than actually was shown on the ice by many Sabres. "Every guy out there is working hard."
Not if you ask coach Ted Nolan, though:
"We're playing one of the better teams in the NHL. You'd think guys would be excited … we had a couple guys no-show."
Nolan declined to name any players when making that comment, but defensemen Jamie McBain and Mike Weber were probably high on his list. Both stood by and watched as the Penguins' superstars made them co-stars on the Thursday morning "SportsCenter" highlights. Both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin had their way with the struggling blueliners in posting a goal and assist each. Both defenders went -2 on the night; Weber is now a league-worst -31 on the season.
"You give their big offensive guys enough chances, and they're going to come through," McBain said. "It's one of those things where you're going to go through things like that."
Ott insists players bring pride to the ice every night. he said players know they're playing for jobs, either in Buffalo or elsewhere should the be traded or let go. And he knows other teams will bring their best games as they push for the playoffs in these final few months of the season. That, he said, is part of what led to Wednesday's drubbing:
"There's going to be good teams like Pittsburgh here starting to jump off, players and teams starting to jump to the next gear. We have to be ready."
The Senators are one of those teams. At 25-21-11, they're right in the mix for one of the final Eastern Conference playoff spots. They're coming off a shootout win over St. Louis on Tuesday and are 3-1-1 in their last five games. Their high-powered offense keeps them in every game, with seven players totaling double-digit goals – led by Bobby Ryan (20), Kyle Turris (19) and former Sabre Clarke MacArthur (18). Craig Anderson has struggled in relation to his outstanding season last year, going only 18-11-8 in goal with a 3.04 GAA.
After Thursday, Buffalo will be off until Feb. 25. They will end their Olympic break early to host the Carolina Hurricanes in a makeup game for one that was snowed out in January.
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