Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller makes a save against the Philadelphia Flyers during the third period of an NHL hockey game in Buffalo, N.Y., Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011. The Flyers won 5-4. (AP Photo/Derek Gee)
BUFFALO, N.Y. - A rash of injuries has made it difficult for Buffalo Sabres management to assess what to make out of—and whether to shake up—a high-priced team off to an inconsistent start.
Rather than overreact, Sabres president Ted Black is asking fans to be patient and the fates to be kinder when it comes to their banged-up lineup.
"The assessment of the team is we're not where we want to be in terms of our record, because we think there are a couple of games that got away from us," Black told The Associated Press by phone Thursday. "This is no time to abandon hope."
Black remains encouraged in noting that the Sabres (14-11-2) still have a winning record and are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. That's not bad for a team that has had eight players—including goalie Ryan Miller—miss six or more games due to injuries; was minus seven regulars in blowing a three-goal lead in a 5-4 overtime loss to Philadelphia on Wednesday; and is 3-5-2 in its past 10 games.
Another benefit is the Sabres discovering how much depth they have.
Buffalo's had nine rookies play this season, five of whom made their NHL debuts. That includes forward Zack Kassian, the team's 2009 first-round draft pick, who has three goals and two assists in six games.
Black said the Sabres aren't "done yet" in attempting to improve the team after an off-season in which Buffalo added three high-priced free agents and re-signed both defenceman Tyler Myers and forward Drew Stafford to lucrative contracts.
Black, however, cautioned that no moves are imminent, and first-year owner Terry Pegula is maintaining an even keel.
"Terry does move quickly and decisively, but he does also balance that with patience and a strong aversion to panicking," Black said. "Even though we've lost so many games, and injuries have hit us so early in this season, there just hasn't been enough time for a fully healthy team to be on the ice to overreact."
Sabres fans are getting antsy after how Buffalo frittered away a 3-0 first-period lead against the Flyers. Buffalo would have lost the game in regulation if not for Stafford scoring with 1:35 left.
According to STATS LLC, Buffalo joins Carolina and the New York Islanders in having lost three times this season when leading by two or more goals. Anaheim and Winnipeg lead the NHL in that blown-lead category in having done it four times.
The Sabres offence is sputtering, having been held to one goal four times in its past 10, including a 1-0 win over Carolina. Their power-play went 0 of 16 before converting twice against Philadelphia. And they've allowed six power-play goal in their past seven games.
What's more perplexing is how the Sabres continue to struggle at home. They're 5-8-2 at Buffalo, not including a season-opening "home" win over Anaheim in a game played at Helsinki.
This is not what was expected from a team that began raising expectations ever since Pegula purchased the franchise in February. Buffalo went 16-4-4 under the new owner as part of a second-half surge to finish seventh in the East before being eliminated by the Flyers in the first round of the playoffs.
Pegula then went on a major shopping spree by committing nearly $140 million on new salaries this off-season in a bid to make the Sabres bona fide contenders.
Black said, Pegula's objective to win the Stanley Cup remains the same.
"I think our track record of improving this team—albeit only over nine or 10 months—should be a strong indication to our fans that we're willing to let no rock go unturned in our relentless pursuit to win the Stanley Cup," he said. "It starts at the top, and the one thing that hasn't changed is Terry's commitment and passion.
Then, with a chuckle, Black added: "None of those have suffered any injuries."