Sabres hope to rebound from poor effort

The Canadiens have shuffled off to Buffalo for the second half of their first of two sets of back-to-back games this week (got that?) and the Sabres are coming off one of their worst games of the season, a 5-3 loss to the Islanders about which John Vogl wrote in the Buffalo News, “Don’t let the score fool you. The Buffalo Sabres’ two-goal loss to the
New York Islanders really wasn’t that close. If the Isles were better at burying the glorious chances presented to
them by the Sabres, Buffalo might’ve trudged home from Long Island with
double digits in the goals-against column.

“The defense was that

Prior to that game, the Sabres had been on a 5-1-1 run, so they had been playing some of their best hockey of the year. They shut out the Sharks in San Jose, held the Penguins to a goal in an OT win, and allowed only two each to the Oilers and Hurricanes. But the Islanders scored four times in the second period, including a natural hat trick by John Tavares in under six minutes, leaving goalie Ryan Miller to fend for himself.

“The second period was a disaster defensively,” coach Lindy Ruff said of his team’s turnover-prone performance.
“There’s no explanation for that. There’s none. The team defense has
been good. You wonder where that came from.”

“That was one of the worst periods of the year for us, by far,”
defenseman Tyler Myers said. “It’s just an embarrassing effort.”

So it will be interesting to see how the Sabres respond on Tuesday. Ruff acknowledged in an interview for the Sabres website (audio) how important it is for the Sabres’ playoff hopes to beat the teams in front of them and the Canadiens are one of those teams.

After last night’s games, the Sabres are in 11th in the East, 10 points behind Atlanta for the eighth spot and 12 behind Montreal.

The Buffalo News’s John Harrington reports that Ruff may switch his top two centres for Tuesday’s game. Jochen Hecht skated in practice Monday between Thomas Vanek and Jason
Pominville while Tim Connolly was between Tyler Ennis and Drew
Stafford. Ruff threw the new Hecht line together on the Island and liked what he saw.

Hecht has been hot for the Sabres with points in seven of his last 10 games and nine of his last 13. Connolly has been cold with only one goal in his last 11. But no Sabres has been colder than Rob Niedermayer who has yet to score a goal this season.

Also not playing his best is goalie Ryan Miller, whose GAA so far in January is a very un-Miller like 3.07 and his save percentage is just
.909. He’s allowed a full half goal a game more this season than he did last year (2.72 vs. 2.22) and his save percentage of .911 compares to last season’s .929.

Ruff said he expected this to be a special teams game.The Habs are still best PK team on the road in the NHL while Harrington points out the Sabres power play at home of late is motoring along at 13 for 39, 33 percent effectiveness, over the last 10 games at HSBC.

“I don’t expect us to get a lot of chances,” Ruff said. “They’ve done a good job staying inside around (Carey) Price and not exposing
themselves. The only way you get big exposure against a team like that
is to get a couple-goal lead where you have to force them out of their
game. That hasn’t happened.”

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