The Isles return to Buffalo tonight, back to where this season started. Where two teams passed one another from last season's playoffs. Sure, there are only 3 points between the two teams thus far, and the Isles have been Jekyll and Mr. Hyde oft-times. But Buffalo's struggle in lieu of what a strong team they were last year is sobering for all.
Buffalo's step back can be directly attributed to their own offices. The office who took a deal to an interested Chris Drury off the table during a season. A team who cried poor to the press, completely opening themselves up for Edmonton to shoot for Vanek as a RFA.
So now they have lost both Drury and Briere, both whom are leading elsewhere. And Vanek is now highly overpaid, since without Drury and Briere, their front office was forced to match Kevin Lowe's ridiculous skewering of the pay structure. A young team had its leadership dynamics scooped away by Free Agency and a what might be perceived as a calculating, Scroogesque, or Stoogesque front office based on fan opine on various blogs and messageboards . . . Buffalo is back to square one, with those who remain and Lindy Ruff. That said, earlier, before the season began, I still saw them as a playoff team right behind Ottawa. Too much good talent. Yet, instead, nothing has come easy.
So, here return the Isles, who with their FA infusion, was leaping out the gate, thundering down the track when this season's starting bell sounded. They have since stuttered, misstepped, and underperformed since, so that flying gait has now turned to just running with the pack, a half length behind. For what Isle fans, bloggers and such don"t like to talk about is that, much like Buffalo, the Isles are currently last place in their division.
So once again these two teams meet, and the question must now be asked: which team is on it's way up or down this time? Who are the Sabres? Who are the Isles? Big questions that might be answered tonight and next week when they play one another again. Also, when the Sabres do come to the Island, they will likely have both Tallinder and Kalinin back. Paille is likely returning tonight. But Ryan Miller, bane of the Isles offense, MIGHT NOT. Miller injured his ankle back on Monday during a 4-1 loss.
Meanwhile, the Isles come in as the lowest goal scoring team in the league, with only 63. Rangers are next worse at 67. After that, Phoenix at 68. For Buffalo, that hasn't been a problem, with 86. A sobering statistic for Isles fans, and Buffalo fans. For all Buffalo's offense, they are behind the Isles with spotty and sometimes shoddy play. Their last bunch of games had big wins at 8-1 and 7-1, and big losses at 8-2 and 4-1.
So, in the land of great wings, beer and who have only hockey since their football team is just one step above the hapless Jets . . . which Sabres team will show up? And which Isles team? Will the Islanders channel their exuberance at the season's start tonight versus gamey Miller or his backup, Thibault? Or even if Miller is out, will the Isles let Thibault channel Dominik Hasek, as their offense sputters once again? Buffalo has a lot of incentive to take to this game.
So many questions. Someone is not going to like the answers.