I'm not one of those fans panicking, whining about how Teppo Numminen's age is finally showing or how Ryan Miller is slumping. I'm too busy wondering how a team that should have been reinvigorated by the return of its captain, Chris Drury, had two of its most pathetic outings of the season in a row this week.
This is the same team that had captured 23 of their last possible 28 points without a third of its lineup. They didn't have Max Afinogenov, Tim Connolly, Ales Kotalik, and then lost Chris Drury to a vicious Chris Neil hit. The team looked more like the Rochester Americans than the Buffalo Sabres, but they managed to pile of up the points and score like crazy. Last week, the Sabres scored 17 goals in three games. And now, just three goals in two games.
But it wasn't just the lack of finish. Buffalo's looked a little uninspired. Bucky Gleason in today's TBN:
"Here’s a word that hasn’t been tossed around in a few years: boring. Looking for another? Sloppy. Another? Ugly. If you didn’t know any better Friday night, you would have thought the Buffalo Sabres revisited the forgettable 2002-03 season rather than being energized by starting back-to-back home games for the first time in eight years."
The team looked disorganized, like a turnover machine, and couldn't make the passes that make them the most dangerous offensive team in the league.
Even more puzzling was Lindy Ruff's decision to start Miller Friday night against the Minnesota Wild. All week, it seemed Ruff had Ty Conklin penciled in for his first start with his new team. But suddenly, Friday came and Miller, who has a history of getting tired, got the nod for his 11th straight appearance. Tonight, Miller has to play against New Jersey. The Devils are just three points behind the Sabres for first overall in the Eastern Conference. And now, the Sabres have dropped to third overall in the league behind Detroit and Nashville.
The mixture of no Conklin and Drury's return doesn't equal up to what's happened on the ice. I almost wonder if Ruff and the team know something the fans don't. Are Afinogenov and Connolly still coming back eventually? Or has there been some injury news the team is hiding from the media? This week, it came out that Connolly still isn't improving:
"Connolly’s leg, however, still hurts. He hasn’t been on the ice and nobody knows when he will be. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has figured Connolly will need six weeks to get into game shape. Four weeks remain in the regular season.
"When you look at a week to 10 days, that wasn’t going to be that big of a setback," Ruff said after Thursday morning’s practice in HSBC Arena. “When you go beyond that, it’s a setback. . . . We were making good progress. Right now, we’re not making any progress." ' (TBN, 3/9/07)
So call me crazy, but maybe the team knows something we don't. This is still the same team that went on the hot streak, that shocked the league with its NHL-leading play with and AHL-looking roster. It's gotta be a problem between their ears. I just hope that I'm wrong; maybe it's just a freak occurrence. And I still can't explain the Miller start on Friday. Let's just hope we won't be kept wondering after tonight.