Home games have become Buffalo’s Hell

Ken Campbell

BUFFALO – We are not exactly delivering breaking news when we inform you almost nothing has gone right for the Buffalo Sabres this season. For example, did you know Ville Leino has one shot this season? Not one goal. One shot. The only player who has recorded a game-winning goal this season is Steve Ott. The reason for that, of course, is that the Sabres have only one non-shootout win this season.

But the biggest blight on what has so far been a miserable season is the Sabres’ 0-8-1 record at the First Niagara Center. Should they lose their game Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Kings – by the way, have you looked at the record of Western Conference teams against the East this season? – they will join the 1983-84 Pittsburgh Penguins as the only teams in NHL history to go winless through their first 10 home games of a season. The consolation prize for the Penguins that year was Mario Lemieux and the last time we checked there were no Lemieuxs in the 2014 draft.

The Sabres haven’t exactly been on fire on the road, either, but their home record has been mind-boggling. Crowds are down, but they have been outstanding for a team that has struggled so much. The First Niagara Center is a loud, raucous building, but that can also work against the Sabres, particularly since they’ve been outscored a whopping 26-3 in first periods this season. Overall, the Sabres have been outscored 32-14 on home ice.

“You want to make your home building a place where teams come in and know it’s not going to be an easy night,” said Sabres captain Steve Ott. “And that’s something that we have to bring here, for sure. That work ethic, that compete. And if we’re going to lose, we’re going to go down swinging. And that has to start at the drop of the puck.”

To be sure, it’s difficult to claw back into games when you get yourselves behind so early and so dramatically. Ott isn’t sure that is so much due to a lack of effort, more a lack of direction.

“We’ve been hesitant,” Ott said. “We’ve been waiting instead of taking initiative. You can go down the list of reasons why that is, but we have to find a way to initiate like a road game. On the road you’re not there to paint a pretty picture, you’re there to put your work in and do your business and get out of there with two points. We’re going to have to have character wins.”

The Sabres are coming off a western road trip on which they beat the San Jose Sharks in a shootout, played the Kings even 5-on-5 and lost 2-0, then turned in a clunker 6-2 loss to Anaheim. Leino was a healthy scratch for that game, while the top line of Cody Hodgson between Matt Moulson and Tyler Ennis spent the third period nailed to the bench. Ott is expected to take Ennis’ spot on the top line tonight, with Ennis moving to the third line with Leino and Drew Stafford.

About the only thing the Sabres have going in their favor against the Kings is history. They are 9-1-1 in their past 11 at home against Los Angeles and have outscored the Kings by a 27-6 margin in the past four games. The Kings, meanwhile, are 4-2-0 against Eastern teams this season, but overall, teams from the west are feasting on the east with a 73-29-11 mark.

Kings coach Darryl Sutter pointed out that the Sabres played the Kings to a scoreless tie in 5-on-5 play when the two teams met five days ago in Los Angeles. “We’ll have to try to get up by a half a goal if we can,” Sutter joked.

Jarret Stoll travelled with the Kings and should see action soon after missing the past two games with an upper body injury. Matt Greene and Kyle Clifford are not on injured reserve, but have not made the trip, while Jeff Carter is on IR with a foot injury.

Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.