When the New Jersey Devils host the Buffalo Sabres tonight, it will feature one team that has lost 11 in a row on home ice and been outscored 43-20 in those games and one that has lost 11 in a row overall and been outscored 47-17. If you’re hoping to see a first in the 104-year history of the NHL and experience a game in which both teams lose, this is the one to watch. (What happens if the score is 0-0 and both teams exhaust their rosters in the shootout? Asking for myself.)
As it stands, the Sabres currently own the best odds of winning the convoluted mess that is the NHL draft lottery, which would give them the right to draft Owen Power first overall. If they do win the lottery, it will be the only thing they win this season. Which brings us to a rather interesting question. Is it possible the Sabres are actually tanking this season? If you watched their dismal effort in a 6-0 loss to the Washington Capitals Monday night, you’d have an impossible time convincing anyone they’re not.
But seriously, the Sabres could very well be tanking. Not the players or the coach, because that is simply not in their DNA. They’re really just that bad for whatever reason. Tanking has to happen at the managerial level. And owners Kim and Terry Pegula and first-year Sabres GM Kevyn Adams have done nothing to dispel the notion that their plan is to add more gasoline to this tire fire. Ten days and six losses ago, Adams talked about how angry he was with the way his team was playing and declared it to be unacceptable. Since that time, his team has lost all six games it has played and been outscored 24-8. And what has Adams done in that time to disrupt this mess? A whole lot of nothing.
The Pegulas and Adams might not be able to do much to improve this roster, but the least they could do is put coach Ralph Krueger out of his misery. It’s very, very clear that the Sabres are not buying what Kruger is selling and in the loss to the Capitals looked very much like a team that is trying to get its coach fired. And they’re doing a spectacular job. Firing Krueger at this point might give the Sabres a couple of wins, a bit of confidence and perhaps even pull them out of 31st place overall. But you have to wonder if that’s even the intention here.
Six years ago, the Sabres tanked their season when the prize for winning the lottery was Connor McDavid. They lost to the Edmonton Oilers because everyone loses to the Edmonton Oilers in the lottery and took Jack Eichel second. That strategy established a losing culture that still seems to permeate the organization today. To be sure, things are very, very ugly in Buffalo these days. “We are in a definitely negative funk right now,” Krueger said after the loss to Washington. “It feels like we’re in a very deep, dark place right now and the only way we get any light is keeping the fight in the team and sticking together. We’re not going to get any outside help and this division is ruthless.”
Sam Reinhart and Kyle Okposo spoke after the game as well and insisted the players have not given up on their coach. “Love the group of guys, love the coach,” Reinhart said. The Sabres may love their coach. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t had enough of him. That must be why they’re playing as though they want to set him free.
Of the two teams that meet tonight, the Sabres are definitely more desperate for a win. They may very well lose again because this thing seems like a snowball running downhill. They haven’t score a goal in two-plus games and they can’t even to get a shot off on a 3-on-1. This one undoubtedly falls into the “must-win” category. “Must?” Krueger asked. “We must show up, we must battle…and the wins should come.”
Perhaps the Sabres will score a goal tonight. Heck, they might even win. An inspired performance is even possible at this point. One thing is certain, though. If the Sabres don’t do any of those things and Ralph Krueger is still behind the bench for their game Thursday night against the Boston Bruins, it will speak volumes of their intentions for this season.