BUFFALO — For the Buffalo Sabres, the 2013-14 season has gone anything but as planned.
Monday night, the Sabres fell 2-1 to Minnesota, leaving Buffalo dead last in the National Hockey League in points and goal production, and despite an improved effort against the Wild, it still ended up as another setback in the loss column, their seventh straight defeat (0-6-1) to open the campaign.
It wasn't too long ago the Sabres were a playoff contender, but so far this year, Buffalo has looked anything but, not generating many scoring chances but yielding many. While the Sabres pointed to the improvement in Monday's game of outshooting Minnesota, it still is difficult to get very far without the offensive production.
"For the most part, we played pretty solid," said Brian Flynn, who got Buffalo's only tally on the night. "We didn't give up as many chances as we have been giving up, so I think that was a positive. We still have to find a way to create more offense, obviously. We're averaging a goal a game, and you're not going to win games like that."
On the other end, the loss was a bit tougher to swallow that former Sabres captain Jason Pominville — who was traded from Buffalo six months ago at the deadline — scored the game-winning goal with just 9.7 seconds left in the second period.
After the Pominville deal at last year's trade deadline, the team didn't do much to improve itself for the new campaign, and with trade rumors over the summer involving goaltender Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek, it has been a bit of an uncertain future for the current edition of the Sabres. With the team seemingly needing some more talent and just under $4 million of the salary cap left, clearly something will have to give unless the current group is able to improve rapidly.
For now, the team is seemingly standing pat with what they have, but so far, it hasn't been a pretty sight.
So far through seven games, the Sabres have a single point to show for their efforts, and the pattern has been consistent. The forwards have had trouble generating scoring chances — just seven goals total, tied with the NHL's individual goal leader in Tomas Hertl — while the goaltenders have been playing well and trying to keep the team in contests. That isn't an easy task, considering Buffalo has allowed 242 shots so far, a clip of over 35 per night.
Miller has recorded a .941 save percentage so far this year, Monday's hard-luck loser Jhonas Enroth has a .909. But neither has a win.
"Both [goaltenders] are at the top of their game, and we owe them," Sabres co-captain Steve Ott said in a glum dressing room. "We owe them some production, some play. [Miller] and Jhonas are giving us a chance even on nights we are getting blown out. We need to start pulling together for those guys at least."
At the other end, the Sabres aren't giving their goaltenders much to work with their limited offense. Monday night, although the Sabres had some scoring chances, an extra pass or a stick held too tight seemed to be a culprit as they tried to take the lead in the second period after Flynn tied it up with 4:56 left in the frame.
However, the team's former captain was the one to deliver the decisive goal, and leave the Sabres one of just two teams in the league without a victory
"It was going to be hard to win with only one goal scored," Enroth said afterwards.
"It stings, because it's another loss," Ott said. "We're in the business of winning and production. There are some bright spots. We finally outshot a team 23-20, and we held them to 20 shots, which is outstanding.
"But when you come out on the losing end, lack of production from all of us — including myself — at the end the day, losing just isn't an option.
The fortunate side for the Sabres is they certainly aren't alone in their struggles, as Ott noted despite the winless start, Buffalo remarkably isn't out of the picture.
"You continue to push forward," Ott said. "There's no give up. Every guy in here has a lot of pride. It stinks, it hurts when you are the record we are. The blessing is the West is killing the East right now and keeping us in it somehow and we haven't won a game. We need wins, we need to start getting points. ... We have to dig ourselves out of this."