The Detroit Red Wings can't seem to shake the struggles that plagued them for the majority of February. Starting a new month, though, might help end those woes.
The league-leading Red Wings seek to regroup in March and avoid a fifth straight defeat as they visit the Buffalo Sabres at HSBC Arena on Sunday.
Detroit (42-18-6) posted an eight-game winning streak from Jan. 17-Feb. 5, and opened a 17-point lead atop the Western Conference at the end of that stretch. The Wings, though, have since gone 1-8-2, and the surging Dallas Stars now lurk just three points behind them.
The Red Wings are enduring their most trying stretch since going 0-9-0 with three ties from Oct. 21-Nov. 16, 1989.
"This has gone on way too long," coach Mike Babcock told the Red Wings' official Web site. "We've been right there a number of times over this period of time and haven't found a way to win. We found a way to win games we didn't compete near as hard in earlier and now we're not.
"We've just got to get back to work and play with energy, play with confidence and let it hang out here a bit."
Detroit, though, must bounce back from its most recent contest - a 3-2 home loss to San Jose on Friday. Henrik Zetterberg had a goal and an assist, and Mikael Samuelsson also scored for the Red Wings, who have lost four straight overall.
"I don't want to say there is panic in the room, but you can see disappointment on our faces," said goaltender Dominik Hasek, who made 19 saves. "But we still believe we can play the way we did before.
"Of course, we have had injuries, but we don't want to make excuses."
An injury-depleted defense, however, contributed to the Red Wings' slump. Detroit is still without defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom (knee), Brian Rafalski (groin) and Chris Chelios (knee), but received a big boost in that area on Friday.
Niklas Kronwall returned to the lineup and assisted on both goals after missing 13 games with a clavicle injury, while Brad Stuart, acquired from Los Angeles just before Tuesday's trade deadline, made his debut and provided a hard-hitting presence on the blue line.
Hasek also was making his return from injury, playing for the first time since Feb. 9 after missing the previous eight contests with a hip injury. He is also 4-1-2 with a 1.81 GAA in eight career games versus the Sabres (31-25-9), whom he played for from 1993-2001.
The Red Wings are trying to avoid their first four-game road losing streak since going 0-3-1 from Nov.13-25, 2005. They have won 12 of the last 15 overall between the teams, and are 6-3-0 with a tie in Buffalo since Feb. 2, 1992.
The Sabres are trying to salvage a .500 mark on their five-game homestand after a 6-2 loss to Montreal on Friday. Thomas Vanek and Tim Connolly each scored goals for the Sabres, who are two points behind Philadelphia for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
"Our defense got caught and our forwards didn't cover up," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "It made for a pretty embarrassing night."
Derek Roy - second on the team with 58 points - had two assists, giving him four goals and eight assists during his career-high, eight-game points streak.
The Sabres had wingers Drew Stafford and Maxim Afinogenov back in the lineup. Stafford returned after missing 10 games with an ankle injury, while Afinogenov missed the previous 26 because of a groin tear.