It's an understatement to say the Sabres failed to live up to expectations. They expected to contend for the Stanley Cup. They didn't even get a chance, finishing ninth in the Eastern Conference and missing the playoffs.
"When you're not in, you feel like it's a waste," captain Jason Pominville said. "We're going home, and we're not going to be playing hockey. We all want to be playing. It feels like it's a wasted season. Another year goes by, and we're not where we want to be."
The Sabres had failures across the board this season. Key players such as goalie Ryan Miller, forwards Thomas Vanek, Drew Stafford, Ville Leino and Derek Roy, and defensemen Tyler Myers and Andrej Sekera all had significant dropoffs in production. Coach Lindy Ruff couldn't coax anything out of his slumping players. General manager Darcy Regier did nothing while the team struggled to a 9-19-5 record from Nov. 11 to Jan. 21.
It all added up to a lost season.
"For sure," Ruff said. "I think you've got to look at it that way. You can't look at it any other way. We put it on that core group of players, and for me it's a tough situation to be in because we battled hard to get back, but we didn't get there."
Things went right for the Sabres for much of the final two months. They went on a 19-5-5 run before getting eliminated in the final week of the season. Miller returned to form and the team averaged more than three goals per game.
The question now is does the organization keep faith in the players and front office that charged back, or dismantle a unit that has missed the postseason three times in the past five seasons?
"The standards have to be higher around here," Pominville said. "We have to find a way to be better. It's unacceptable to be out and in the position we're in right now. It's disappointing that we came out short."
The Sabres, who at one point were last in the Eastern Conference, rallied back to tie eighth-place Washington with six games left in the season. In a showdown on March 27, the visiting Sabres shellacked the Capitals 5-1 to move into a playoff spot and control their destiny. They believed their hard work would pay off.
Boston's Milan Lucic collided with goalie Ryan Miller on Nov. 12, and the Sabres did nothing to stick up for their goaltender. He suffered a concussion and whiplash, missed nine games and continued to struggle for two months. So did the team. They were 10-5 at the time of the collision but won just nine of their next 33.
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