Last night, the Buffalo Sabres went out and beat the Columbus Blue Jackets to snap the Jackets’ eight-game winning streak. From the moment the Sabres broke the tension in the arena by scoring the first goal of the game, the arena was quiet. The Jackets managed to tie the game, but then the Sabres took advantage of rare mistakes made by goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to take a 3-1 lead. By the time the game was over, the Sabres had skated away with a 5-2 victory.
The Blue Jackets had a bad game, but the Sabres took advantage of every opportunity they were given. Despite being outshot 21-to-38, the Sabres managed back-to-back shorthanded goals and captain Steve Ott even got in on the scoring with his seventh goal of the season. The Sabres looked relaxed, confident and ready to take on anything the Blue Jackets could throw at them. It helped that Bobrovsky was unable to keep a beach ball out of the net with a broom, but the Sabres have been beaten by bad goaltending plenty of times.
The Sabres left Columbus after the game on Saturday and instead of going home to Buffalo, the team decided to spend two days in Pittsburgh to prepare for a game with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sports fans are known to be vicious and demanding people. They pay good money to see their favorite teams play, but they also demand a lot from their teams. It is not unfair for a fan to expect his team to win, but maybe putting pressure on a team to win when the team is already having problems winning is not the right approach.
The Sabres have made every executive and coaching move a team could be expected to make. The team has an interim head coach that has a firm grasp on what his team needs, it has an experienced president of hockey operations who also happens to be a Buffalo legend, and the team has a young and aggressive general manager who has helped to put winning teams together in the past. The pieces in the front office and behind the bench are there. Now, the team just needs to fix the product on the ice.
The Sabres play poorly at home and on the road, but the team usually seems more relaxed when it is away from First Niagara Center. A team wants to feel at home when it is at home, and the Sabres obviously do not feel that way. While the fans are impatiently waiting for Tim Murray to build a Stanley Cup champion, maybe they could lighten up a little and support the team as it enters a transition.
Fans have every right to boo their team when they feel that the team is not playing well. But after a while, a team gets so used to disgruntled fans that it starts to tune them out. When the Sabres score goals, they do not pound the glass to celebrate with the fans like they used to. The blocks of empty seats in the First Niagara Center have to be both embarrassing and frustrating for the team. The hardcore fans will always be there and always cheering, but a fanbase can sometimes make the difference between winning and losing for a hockey team. When a team does not feel welcomed in its own home building, it is hard to play good hockey.