By Bill Hoppe
Get back to basics, simplify the game. It’s the easiest remedy for the Sabres’ home woes. So far, they’re just 1-3 inside the First Niagara Center, leaving their frustrated fans howling in disgust throughout the disjointed, sloppy efforts.
You think opponents dread coming into the FNC right now?
“We want to make a team coming in here saying, ‘Uhh, we got to play there?’ That would be the ideal situation for us,” winger Cody McCormick said Tuesday after the Sabres prepared for tonight’s home tilt against the Philadelphia Flyers. “We want to be a team nobody wants to play. At home you can really establish that.”
Almost a month into the season, the Sabres, 6-4 overall, have only established an alarming penchant for collapsing late, having given up the go-ahead goal in the third period of all three home losses.
The Sabres also experienced a dreadful home start last season, dropping their first seven tilts (0-5-2) before finally winning Nov. 13. They finished a terrific 21-11-2, however.
Right now, the Sabres, 5-1 on the road — their 4-1 opening-night win in Finland technically counted as a home win — have clearly gotten away from the tighter style they showcased while playing six of the first seven games away.
“We’re making plays that we didn’t make in the first three or four games, we’re trying plays,” Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. “I think that comes with success that you think, ‘Ahh, we’re pretty good, maybe we can be a little bit better, maybe we can try a little bit of this, a little bit of that.’ And a little bit of that turns into something in your own goal.”
Getting too fancy, trying to put on a show for the home fans has hurt the Sabres for years. They make an extra pass, maybe force a play they shouldn’t. If often bites them.
“For some reason we try to do too much, hang onto puck maybe a little bit too long,” Sabres captain Jason Pominville said. “We know we can’t do it but we still do it. I think it has to change if we want to be a better team.”
They need get back to “basic hockey,” McCormick said.
“That’s what works for us when we’re on the road,” he said. “We’re getting in, we’re getting chances, we’re getting to the hard areas. I think that could really make us successful here.”
Fresh off two European wins, the Sabres fell 4-3 to Carolina in the home opener Oct. 14, allowing a late goal moments after they had fought back to tie it. After a 3-1 road trip, the Sabres began their current five-game homestand ominously.
The Sabres lost 4-3 to Tampa Bay last Tuesday, blowing an early 2-0 lead in a game they outplayed the Lightning. On Thursday, a 4-2 triumph over hapless Columbus, they allowed 43 shots, only getting bailed out by Jhonas Enroth’s stellar goaltending.
Then they performed wretchedly in a 3-2 loss Saturday to Florida. Still, they had 2-1 lead with four minutes left, but imploded after Nathan Gerbe’s tripping and unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
“The consistency, our execution with passing — I looked at all the plays, some pucks bounced over sticks, some hit sticks, some we gave away — (it) made for a very disjointed attack,” Ruff said about Saturday. “I talked with the team afterwards with just staying aggressive. I think when some of that happens your tendency is to pull back. We need stay aggressive.”
The Sabres have earned their boos this season.
“You hear it,” Sabres defenseman Robyn Regehr said. “Fans are entitled to their opinions. They come to watch us and cheer us on when things are going well. So they get frustrated when things aren’t, so I think that’s back to the lack of execution we’ve had here at home, spotty play. I think they’re frustrated with that.”
So are the Sabres, who know the FNC should be loathed around the NHL.
“We got to make it a tough place; we got to make it a special place,” Pominville said. “It’s got to be an intimidating place. Teams, they come in here, they know it’s a tough barn, it’s not going to be an easy night. I think the biggest thing, it starts with effort. If our effort’s there, everything will fall into place.”
Notes: The Sabres spent Tuesday practicing the power play, with center Derek Roy manning defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani’s spot at the point. Does that mean gritty defenseman Mike Weber, a healthy scratch all 10 games, could make his season debut against the rough-and-tumble Flyers? “Not necessarily,” Ruff said. “We’ll see about that.” Ruff has said he could tailor the lineup to the opponent. … Center Jochen Hecht (concussion) is out indefinitely, Ruff said. Hecht had been practicing, but suffered some headaches in the last few days.