Fir­ing Hous­ley may be lone choice for Sabres

The Buffalo News - - SPORTS -

There’s no way Terry and Kim Peg­ula thought they’d be at this point. And Ja­son Bot­ter­ill acted in as­ton­ish­ment when the sub­ject was dared to be broached three weeks ago dur­ing his im­promptu press con­fer­ence in Tampa. But here we are. Again. The Sabres have been shut out three times in a row af­ter Thurs­day’s dread­ful 5-0 loss to the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins. It’s the sec­ond year in a row they’ve sunk to that level, af­ter it never hap­pened in the fran­chise’s first 48 years of ex­is­tence.

The play­ers have been ter­ri­ble the last 45 games – put­ting up a 13-25-7 record that’s sec­ond-worst in the NHL in that stretch – and the gen­eral man­ager is 2 for 2 in put­ting to­gether flawed ros­ters, but we all know what hap­pens in these sit­u­a­tions.

You can’t fire 20 play­ers, although Bot­ter­ill would do well to dump half of them again this sum­mer. And it’s hard to imag­ine the Peg­u­las re­serve a spot for Bot­ter­ill at the Os­te­ria 166 bar with the ghosts of Tim Mur­ray and Doug Wha­ley less than two years af­ter they hired him to undo the dam­age they blamed Mur­ray for.

So that means the nu­clear op­tion is upon us: Phil Hous­ley is in real trou­ble.

Now, the dis­claimer right from the top: Reg­u­lar read­ers of this space know I do not be­lieve in fir­ing coaches – or GMs – ev­ery two years, which is what this fran­chise seems bent on do­ing. But it’s

Mike Har­ring­ton


in­creas­ingly ap­par­ent that Hous­ley has to go.

Maybe the own­ers and the GM keep Hous­ley on a short leash and tell him he has to re­move all his as­sis­tants ex­cept per­haps for de­fense and penalty kill coach Steve Smith.

But if they keep him, what do they have to sell?

The KeyBank Cen­ter or­gan­ist was play­ing Fleet­wood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Think­ing About To­mor­row” at one point in the sec­ond pe­riod and it’s clearly been the Peg­ula Mantra. Be­cause we’ve never got­ten to to­day around here.

There was Sam Rein­hart com­ing. A full tank to land Jack Eichel. A Stan­ley Cup coach in Dan Bylsma. A 27-point im­prove­ment. Then the hir­ing of Bot­ter­ill and Hous­ley when the play­ers and fans tired of Bylsma. Then the lot­tery win of Ras­mus Dahlin af­ter last year’s 62-point disas­ter.

What can they pos­si­bly do this year to get any­one to keep sea­son tick­ets? Un­less they strike Jack Hughes gold in the lot­tery, the only card they may have left to play is the coach.

Hous­ley is no dummy. He knows how these things work.

There’s lit­tle pride left on this team. Too many guys are quit­ting on him. Hous­ley tried to point out it was score­less af­ter the first pe­riod Thurs­day and that’s true. And so was the Sabres’ 9-2 ad­van­tage in shots on goal at one point of the sec­ond pe­riod. But when you haven’t scored a goal in three games, that’s grasp­ing at straws.

Asked his level of con­cern about his sta­tus, Hous­ley said sim­ply, “I’m not con­cerned about any­thing ex­cept to­mor­row when we come to work and get ready for Carolina.”

But pressed about how this team’s per­for­mance is a di­rect re­flec­tion of his job, Hous­ley had a lit­tle more to say.

“I don’t think about that right now. I have to come to work,” he said. “I have to con­tinue to teach our guys the right things, how to play the right way, how to go to the net and con­tinue to work. We’ve got a lot of games left up here against good op­po­nents and that’s what I have to get our fo­cus to.”

Kyle Ok­poso pas­sion­ately dis­puted the no­tion there’s a lack of pride in the dress­ing room, even drop­ping a very out-of-char­ac­ter ex­ple­tive. Then Ja­son Pom­inville brought up the word “pride” to re­porters three times -- un­prompted -- less than a minute later.

Ok­poso talked about the lack of “jam” in the Sabres’ game and he’s right. It’s flat-out galling how soft this team is.

How much longer do we have to see the likes of Ras­mus Ris­to­lainen, Marco Scan­della, Vladimir Sobotka, Jo­han Lars­son or Matt Hun­wick? Why in the world was Tage Thomp­son in the NHL all year? Why was noth­ing done to turn this sea­son around when it was still sal­vage­able?

Where is this go­ing to end? No team in NHL his­tory has won 10 games in a row and lost 10 games in a row in the same sea­son. The Sabres are at six losses in a row now (0-5-1) and they look like they can get there.

They’re 2-9-2 in their last 13 games and 3-11-2 in their last 16. They’re in Carolina on Satur­day and have lost eight straight to the Hur­ri­canes. Ryan O’Reilly and the St. Louis Blues are here Sun­day and Toronto fans will fill the build­ing to cheer on the Leafs here Wed­nes­day. That would be nine. And next Satur­day in Mon­treal would be 10.

Which of those games would you ex­pect the Sabres to win at this point?

No mat­ter how you slice it, it’s a bad re­flec­tion upon the coach. Hous­ley al­ready has de­mer­its to his name with the over-re­liance on Sobtoka and Scan­della, the con­stant jug­gling at both for­ward and de­fense and the stun­ning stat that the Sabres haven’t even won two in a row since mid-De­cem­ber. And don’t even get me started about the pound­ing he’s tak­ing from the an­a­lyt­ics com­mu­nity for his player us­age.

Still, play­ers rou­tinely threw Bylsma un­der the bus and that’s not hap­pen­ing here yet. Conor Sheary pointed out the game plans proved they worked ear­lier this year. Of course, what re­ally worked was over­achiev­ing goal­tend­ing and puck luck in over­time.

“Xs and Os will give you ideas of how you want to play but it comes down to who wants it more and bat­tling,” Pom­inville said. “To me, that’s all it comes down to. We have to find a way to dig deep and do it for each other.”

My fa­vorite leather­lung in Sec­tion 316 was back again in the sec­ond pe­riod. In the great spirit of “Fire Regieeeer” and “Make a move, Mur­rrrrrray’, this night’s good howl was “Bottt­ter­rrril­l­l­l­lll, this is gar­rrrr-bage.”

It sure is. The GM re­ally has this team messed up again. But it sure seems like Hous­ley is go­ing to take most of the blame. COL­LEGE HOCKEY

Robert Kirkham/Buf­falo News

Buf­falo’s Evan Ro­drigues and Pitts­burgh’s Mar­cus Pet­ters­son both try to come up with the puck Thurs­day.

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