The Buffalo Sabres ended their brief skid by returning to their style of play. That included another mediocre showing by their special teams.
The Sabres look to improve their odd-man play when they visit the slumping Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday in the first meeting between the squads since the 2003-04 season.
Buffalo (30-9-3) leads the NHL with 3.76 goals per game this season, but was outscored 10-5 in consecutive losses to Ottawa and Pittsburgh last week. The Eastern Conference-leading Sabres bounced back Saturday, scoring the first two goals and holding on for a 4-3 win over Toronto.
Daniel Briere, Chris Drury and Ales Kotalik each a goal and an assist for the Sabres, who avoided dropping three in a row for the first time this season.
"We're not use to losing," said Briere, who leads Buffalo with 49 points. "Two games for us felt like a long time. Now we'll be able to relax and get back to the same game plan."
Buffalo might not want to relax too much as it has yet to get its penalty-killing unit on track. The Sabres are thwarting 81.9 percent of opponent power-plays this season, which ranks in the bottom half of the NHL, and they've stopped just 58.8 percent of those chances over the last three games.
They have a good shot of improving that play against a Chicago team that ranks last in the league in power-play efficiency, scoring on a dismal 11.4 percent of its opportunities. The Sabres have also struggled in that area and were blanked on all five of their extra-man advantages Saturday. They've capitalized on 16.7 percent of their chances in 2006-07, one of the conference's worst marks.
Briere and Dmitri Kalinin each recorded a goal and an assist to lift Buffalo to a 3-2 win over the Blackhawks on Dec. 3, 2003. The Sabres have won three of the last four matchups in Chicago and meet a Blackhawks squad trying to avoid a season high-tying fourth consecutive loss at the United Center.
Patrick Sharp got Chicago (17-20-5) on the board first Sunday, but the team allowed four unanswered goals en route to a 4-2 loss to Phoenix. The Blackhawks have dropped three in a row - getting outscored 14-5 - and five of their last six.
"The only thing we can control is our effort," said Blackhawks coach Denis Savard, whose team is concluding a three-game homestand. "Again, we had enough chances to win. ... It's tough sledding, but there's a long way to go and we've got to stay positive."
Chicago's Nikolai Khabibulin may find it a little hard to stay positive as he has posted a 4.32 goal-against average over the last three losses - a big jump from his 2.57 GAA this season.
"I didn't see the puck that well (Sunday), even without screens," said Khabibulin, who has a 1.00 GAA in winning his last two starts against the Sabres. "It's hard to explain."
Buffalo's Ryan Miller got Saturday off, but will likely be back in goal Wednesday as he tries to avoid losing three straight starts for the first time this season. Miller has never played the Blackhawks.
He may not have to face their top goal scorer as Martin Havlat is listed as day-to-day with a groin injury that has kept him out of the last two contests. Chicago defenseman Jassen Cullimore is also day-to-day with a shoulder injury.
|Jan 10 '07||BUF 2 at CHI 1|