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Leafs Skid Continues ...

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
January 26, 2006

TORONTO (CP) -- Some teams can cope with adversity, and others fold.

The Buffalo Sabres, missing more injured regulars than Toronto, mauled the Maple Leafs 8-4 Thursday night.

Andy Wozniewski played his second NHL game Thursday night.
(Dave Sandford/Getty Images/NHLI)

"We really rose to the challenge,'' said veteran Buffalo defenceman Jay McKee. "Both teams have key players missing.

"We've been going pretty good for the most part, and they've been struggling.''

Seven straight losses add up to Toronto's longest losing streak in nearly nine years.

Forwards Daniel Briere, Tim Connolly, Adam Mair and Taylor Pyatt are all gone from Buffalo's lineup with long-term injuries, and defenceman Teppo Numminen sat this one out with a pulled hamstring.

The Leafs have been without defenceman Bryan McCabe and forwards Eric Lindros and Darcy Tucker, defenceman Carlo Colaiacovo went down Monday, and defenceman Aki Berg suffered a rib injury in this one.

The Sabres have adjusted successfully, and the Leafs have not.

Thomas Vanek scored twice and Jochen Hecht, Derek Roy, Brian Campbell, Jason Pominville, Chris Drury and McKee once each for the Sabres, fourth in the NHL's Eastern Conference and now 14 points ahead of Toronto.

"We've been very fortunate with our injuries,'' said McKee. "We've had guys step in and get some chemistry right away.

"Our young guys have come up from (AHL) Rochester and have been producing. When your team gains confidence, you can roll with it.''

Alex Steen, with two goals, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Alexander Khavanov scored for the East's fast-fading, ninth-place entry.

"It's frustrating,'' said forward Matt Stajan. "Yeah, we played better, but we still lost.

"It's not fun, but we can't get down on ourselves. We have to turn this thing around somehow. We can't dwell on this and be down.''

Ed Belfour got the hook and Mikael Tellqvist was sent in after Buffalo went up 4-1 early in the second period. Despite the losing streak, GM John Ferguson and head coach Pat Quinn have refused to give Tellqvist a run of starts to see what he can do.

Belfour let in two soft goals.

"It's always discouraging when you don't have things go your way,'' he said. "You just have to work your way through these kinds of things.

"I've been through it before. I'm sure everybody has. We'll keep working hard and stay together and our luck will change.''

Buffalo, with the second-best power play in the NHL, struck for three with the man advantage. They've been scoring a lot, but still don't have anybody in the top 30 NHL scorers. That's because the goals are spread around.

"That's a credit to the four lines we have,'' said McKee. "We're able to throw four lines over the boards and guys are generating offence.

"The fourth line is chipping in here and there, and we've had a real solid power play and good penalty killing. With the new rules with more calls being made, special teams are more important than ever and it's benefitting us.''

Toronto scored first, relinquished four Buffalo goals in a row, closed to within 4-3, and traded goals with the Sabres before the visitors pulled away again with three unanswered third-period goals.

Drury made it 6-4 with a power-play slapper while Chad Kilger served a high-sticking penalty _ his third infraction of the night. Ken Klee was off for hooking when Vanek put a rebound into an open side of net, and McKee slid the puck into an empty net with Tellqvist off for an extra attacker with one second remaining.

"We wanted to get on them early but they got the first goal and that certainly wasn't our game plan but we were able to battle through and pull it off,'' said McKee.

"We got some bounces that went our way,'' said Drury. "It was a pretty ugly game.''

Vanek now has 15 goals. The rookie had a slow start this season but has stepped it up in the last few weeks.

"I knew it was going to be tough,'' Vanek said of making his mark in the big league. "The first 20 or so games were a bit of a transition time from the AHL but I feel comfortable now.

"I just need to be more consistent to earn more ice time and show them I can do it each and every night.''

The Leafs managed only six shots on goaltender Ryan Miller in the third period. Pathetic. Some of the 19,400 spectators in Air Canada Centre booed the home team as it ended.

Notes: Khavanov's short-handed goal was the first by a Toronto defenceman since Tomas Kaberle got one on Oct. 19, 2002, against Montreal ... Lindros, who hasn't played since hurting his right wrist ligaments Dec. 10, took part in the morning skate, and might be fit to return to the lineup soon. "(Eric) indicates there's been terrific improvement,'' said Quinn ... McCabe (groin, Jan. 7) "wants to get back in and help us but we don't want to risk longer injury,'' said Quinn ... Tucker (ribs, Jan. 10) might be ready to return next week ... Briere (abdominal surgery), Connolly (knee), Mair (concussion) and Pyatt (wrist) won't be back anytime soon ... D Andy Wozniewski reappeared for the first time since the Oct. 5 season opener. He was summoned from the AHL Marlies to replace Colaiacovo (concussion) ... Toronto's next game is Saturday when the Montreal Canadiens visit (CBC, 7 p.m. ET). Buffalo doesn't play again until Tuesday in Atlanta.

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