The Buffalo Sabres' inconsistent play has them sitting in the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference. It also has coach Lindy Ruff desperate for answers.
After threatening to make major changes following his team's latest loss, Ruff hopes the underachieving Sabres respond as they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs in a Northeast Division matchup Thursday night.
After losing eight of 10 games from Nov. 14-Dec. 4, Buffalo (17-15-5) appeared to get back on track with five wins in its next seven contests. The Sabres, though, have followed that strong stretch by going 1-2-2 in their last five.
"It's disappointing, it's frustrating and hard to hide from," Ruff said after a 4-2 home loss to Washington on Tuesday night.
Derek Roy, who had 32 goals and a team-best 81 points - both career highs - last season, has only 11 goals and 31 assists as the halfway point of the season approaches. He's been held without a goal over his last four games, and has just one assist in that stretch.
Jochen Hecht, fourth on the team with 49 points in 2007-08, has 13 in his first 27 games. Hecht snapped a four-game point drought with a goal in a 4-3 shootout win over the New York Islanders on Saturday and had an assist Tuesday, but Ruff remained upset with the play of his star players.
"If Jochen Hecht and Derek Roy and those kinds of guys aren't our best players, you don't have any chance of winning," he said. "We'll take them out of the lineup. Some of them will come out, and that's not an idle threat, either. You still have to put the work in, and I don't think we did."
The gritty play of other players might make it easier for Ruff to follow through with some adjustments to his rotation.
"If Matt Ellis wants to compete harder and Adam Mair wants to compete harder, then we will play the guys that want to compete harder," Ruff told the Sabres' official Web site. "That's the only fair thing to do."
Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller says he supports any changes that will help the Sabres get back on track.
"We're getting into maybe a little bit of a see-saw situation here where we have been good for some spurts and then not so good. You expect that over the course of a season but we expect more out of ourselves.
"At this stage of the season, where we're sitting, we need good things to happen."
They'll try to get something started in Toronto, where they've won three straight and are 10-3-1 since Feb. 14, 2004.
The Maple Leafs (15-16-6) will be trying to build on a comeback victory Tuesday that snapped their three-game losing streak. They fell behind 2-0 early, but pulled out a 4-3 win over Atlanta on Pavel Kubina's power-play goal 33 seconds into overtime.
"We got our offense going, we had a ton of shots, a ton of scoring chances," said coach Ron Wilson, whose team was one shot shy of its season high of 48.
Backup goalie Curtis Joseph started Tuesday's game and made 29 saves to record his first win of the season and 450th of his career. He's expected to start again Thursday.