Sinking Sabres ready for rough stretch

The Buffalo Sabres have lost five games in a row, sinking into ninth place in the Eastern Conference before we even hit Thanksgiving. Their offense is in a major drought, the senior member of their defense has been a healthy scratch and their goaltending has been middling at best.


Worse yet, the conference co-leading Boston Bruins are in town tonight to start a rugged stretch of four games in the next six nights.

Talk about an early-season crisis. So what did coach Lindy Ruff have his team do Tuesday?

Nothing.

Ruff gave his team a break from practice, something longtime observers say he has rarely done on the day before a game regardless of the situation the Sabres are in.

There's no doubt Ruff is trying to change the karma and shake the team out of its doldrums. But he's also trying to sneak in a day off on one of the few chances he's going to get for a while. That's because Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins are here Friday, the Sabres play Saturday in Montreal and host Nashville Monday. And Ruff probably owes his players one anyway because they skated Sunday after they had lost back-to-back games against Philadelphia and the New York Islanders; the team is usually off on Sunday after a Saturday game.

The Sabres haven't dropped six straight in regulation since a seven-game skid in December 2003.

Buffalo has scored just nine goals in its five-game slide -- but only two have come in the last eight-plus periods, totaling 167 minutes, 23 seconds.

"You can't let the frustration get to you," Ruff said. "You've got to stay with it and grind even harder."

Newcomer Mark Mancari had a team-high 12 shots on goal in two weekend games after getting promoted from Portland of the AHL and Ruff said some of his players need to pay heed to the way Mancari played.

"Scoring goals in this league, you've got to go to the tough areas, be ready to drive," Ruff said. "Most teams now will let you play on the outside. You've got to be ready to get pucks to the net and go to the inside. We've seen Mark . . . have great opportunities to score. He uses his size but he gets there. He gets to the goaltender. That's more about how goals are going to be scored."

Mancari took the place of Maxim Afinogenov in the lineup. Afinogenov and defenseman Henrik Tallinder were scratched for the last two games and Ruff said he's likely going to put both of them back in tonight.

The logical move with Tallinder is to simply reinsert him in place of Nathan Paetsch. There is no simple choice with Afinogenov.

After the way he played over the weekend, Mancari is not coming out. Ruff could scratch Andrew Peters or Patrick Kaleta but the Bruins have played a physical style in beating Buffalo both meetings this month in Boston and it's likely Buffalo wants to have some bangers in the lineup.

Furthermore, Ruff has been praising his grinders and turning up the heat on his skill players. It could mean a seat for Drew Stafford or Daniel Paille, both of whom are stuck on two goals and have earned some ire from Ruff for their play.

"It shows there will be accountability in this dressing room and we need guys to play up to their potential," captain Craig Rivet said. "Hank [Tallinder] is one of our top defensemen and he can be an extremely valuable piece to our puzzle defensively.

"And everyone knows how talented Max is. He's one of the most dangerous guys when he's on his game. I think they're really hungry, looking to get back into the lineup and I think we'll see good things out of them."

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com




Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: November 27, 2008