Tonight in Buffalo, the Sabres will play their biggest game of the season. Lose to the Leafs and the club that took on millions and millions in payroll during the summer could fall seven points out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
As it stands, the Sabres sit eight points back of seventh-place Toronto and five back of eighth-place Washington. The Capitals host the struggling Lightning tonight.
So where did it all go wrong for a team that many thought could compete for a Stanley Cup?
Ask Sabres owner Terry Pegula, the man who opened his enormous wallet to put this group together, and he points to one big factor — injuries.
“I have to believe we’re a better hockey team than we were last year,” Pegula told The Buffalo News yesterday evening. “We just didn’t have this massive, catastrophic injury problem. Put yourself in anybody’s place in the organization. How do you evaluate what’s going on?”
Speaking of last year, Buffalo’s record today (18-19-5) is the exact same as it was a year ago to this very day. And with a 3-2 win over Carolina at the First Niagara Center, the Sabres kicked off a remarkable 25-10-5 run and went on to clinch seventh spot in the East.
But let’s face it, that’s not likely to repeat itself.
Not that the Sabres are utterly incapable. It’s just, those things don’t happen very often. Otherwise they wouldn’t be remarkable. That’s how big a hole the Sabres are in. They’ll have to be “remarkable” to make the playoffs.
The Los Angeles Kings may owe Mike Richards money until 2031 (seriously), but in settling his grievance, the team and player more or less get to turn the page.
Kings GM Dean Lombardi ranks among the NHL’s most outspoken executives. Even so, his discussion of what he calls Richards’ “destructive sprial” is a staggering read from the Los Angeles Times’ Lisa Dillman.
“Without a doubt, the realization of what happened to Mike Richards is the most traumatic episode of my career,” Lombardi said in a written summation he provided to the Los Angeles Times. “At times, I think that I will never recover from it. It is difficult to trust anyone right now – and you begin to question whether you can trust your own judgment. The only thing I can think of that would be worse would be suspecting your wife of cheating on you for five years and then finding out in fact it was true.”
Lombardi provides plenty of eyebrow-raising statements to Dillman, including:
- He believed he “found his own Derek Jeter” in Richards, a player who “at one time symbolized everything that was special about the sport.”
- Lombardi remarked that “his production dropped 50 percent and the certain ‘it’ factor he had was vaporizing in front of me daily.” (Bold claim: the production part was probably the bigger sticking point.)
- The Kings GM believes that he was “played” by Richards.
Again, it’s a powerful read that you should soak in yourself, even if you’re unhappy with the Lombardi and the Kings handled the situation.
Maybe the most pressing of many lingering questions is: will we get to hear Richards’ side of the story?
Despite owning two Stanley Cup rings, there are a healthy number of people who aren’t wild about Jonathan Quick.
Those people might feel validated through the Los Angeles Kings’ first two games, as he followed a rough loss to the San Jose Sharks with a true stinker against the Arizona Coyotes on Friday.
Sometimes a goalie has a bad night stats-wise, yet his team is as much to blame as anything else. You can probably pin this one on Quick, who allowed four goals on just 14 shots through the first two periods.
Things died down in the final frame, but let’s face it; slowing things down is absolutely the Coyotes’ design with a 4-1 lead (which ultimately resulted in a 4-1 win).
A soft 1-0 goal turned out to be a sign of things to come:
Many expected the Kings to roar into this second game after laying an egg in their opener. Instead, the Coyotes exploited Quick’s struggles for a confidence-booster, which included key prospect Max Domi scoring a goal and an assist.
It’s worth mentioning that Mike Smith looked downright fantastic at times, only drawing more attention to Quick’s struggles.
After a troubled summer and a failed 2014-15 season, Los Angeles was likely eager to start things off the right way.
Instead, they instead will likely focus on the fact that they merely dropped two (ugly) games.