In a shortened season, the last thing the Buffalo Sabres could afford is a losing skid.
Yet that's exactly what the blue and gold are mired in, having squandered one-eighth of the compacted 48-game schedule in a streak during which they've lost six out of seven games. So, even though Buffalo hasn't even played 10 games yet, it could very well be playing for its season tonight in Ottawa (7:30 p.m., MSG).
Buffalo has been losing games in every fashion, getting blown out one night by Montreal and blowing a two-goal the next night and falling to Florida. Coach Lindy Ruff said Sunday's game was actually hard to take, as Buffalo simply failed to take the opportunities it was given to put the Panthers down:
"If you look at some of the point-blank opportunities, I would shake my head last night. And I didn't sleep well. This building could have been rocking and the building turned the other direction by the end of the night. I'm a little above disbelief."
Also causing disbelief is the relative amount of ice time given to Thomas Vanek, the NHL's leading scorer. He had a three-point afternoon Sunday but was limited to 19:15 and is playing 19:13 a game for the season, 56th among forwards in the league. New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk plays 26:23 per game.
Ruff said Vanek's line tends to keep its shifts short, but he'll try to give Vanek more time on the penalty kill. He has limited ice time in certain cases, though, because of the compacted nature of this season's schedule. Vanek said he understands:
"If you overplay, sure, you can probably get injured easier. You got to use four lines. Obviously, there’s times you have to ramp it up to three lines, some guys more often. But overall, I like the idea of having four lines that can play."
If only that were the case, though. By himself, Vanek has nearly 30 percent of Buffalo's 27 goals this season. Including his linemates of Jason Pominville and Cody Hodgson (five each), that percentage increases to 67. And the power play is on a 3-for-26 skip that's lowered the season conversion percentage to 18.8.
But more offense would help only to a point. The Sabres are near the bottom of the league in goals against (3.7 per game, tied for 26th) and shots against (33.9, 29th) while putting out two of the worst defenders in the league this season in Jordan Leopold (one assist, -8 rating) and Tyler Myers (one goal, -6). To help stop the floodgates around Ryan Miller – who has allowed at least four goals in four straight games – Buffalo recalled Adam pPrdy Monday from Rochester. He has a goal and two assists with a +3 rating in five games with the Amerks so far.
That is by no means, however, the solution to Buffalo's ills.
"It needs to happen and it needs to happen right now," said forward Drew Stafford, who's scoreless so far this season. "We don't have a lot of time to turn it back around. If you do lose a couple in a row, that hurts. That's something we're doing our best to address but we need to be even better."
Ottawa enters the game with a 5-3-1 record. The Senators are without Jason Spezza, who's out with a herniated disk. They've been led by goalie Craig Anderson, who's gone 5-2-1 with a 1.12 GAA. Kyle Turris leads the team with four goals, four assists and eight points. Erik Karlsson and Jim O'Brien have added three goals each.
Ottawa and Buffalo split the season series last year.
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