Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

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February 17, 2013

HOPKINS: Musings on the ice and snow

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Today is “Hockey Day in America,” and the Sabres are involved in one of the three marquee matchups being broadcast by NBC and its affiliated networks. (Noon, vs. Pittsburgh.)

Which Sabres team will show up? The one that seems mildly interested in playing or the one that wants to be world beaters? Maybe it’ll be the team that seems intent on making Lindy Ruff an ex-coach.

I have many friends who have champagne on ice, to be uncorked the day Lindy gets the axe. I can’t say that I blame them. When he first became Sabres coach he had the good fortune of having the best goaltender in the world, Mr. Hasek. He also deflected blame on his team’s poor play on the referees. A bad call here, a bad call there.

That act got old with me quick, especially when he’d use it in a game the Sabres were out of before the puck was dropped. OK, Lindy, I understand your frustration with the missed tripping penalty, but that still doesn’t explain the 5-1 loss.

Today he has a goalie who hasn’t been the same since he allowed a gold medal-winning softie by Sidney Crosby in overtime at the Vancouver Olympics. At least he’s tempered his act of singling out the refs.

You can’t judge a coach by his goaltending. However, you can judge a coach by his team’s inconsistent performance year-in and year-out, their sporadic playoff appearances, their inability — for years — to go for the jugular when they’re dominating a game and their reliance — again, for years, — of mounting incredible comebacks in the late stages of games.

Some of that might be exciting and sells seats, but a consistently winning team also sells. Look at Detroit, where deep runs into the Stanley Cup playoffs has been a tradition for 20 years. Sensible Sabres fans have seen past their team’s big comebacks and inability to smell blood and have recognized the Sabres for what they have become: a pedestrian but sometimes entertaining team that may or may not make the payoffs and may or may not make a nice run through the post-season. Until they get mowed down by a team that’s serious about winning.

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