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Stress builds on skidding Sabres, Blackhawks

by Brian Compton /

If the Buffalo Sabres plan on returning to the Eastern Conference Finals, they certainly have their work cut out for them.
Some random thoughts before the Chicago Blackhawks star in the next “ER” episode:

Tough Road Ahead -- If the Buffalo Sabres plan on returning to the Eastern Conference Finals for a third consecutive year, they certainly have their work cut out for them.

Their losing streak reached six games with Sunday’s 5-2 defeat to the Atlanta Thrashers, as Lindy Ruff’s squad continues to struggle to generate offense. Buffalo has scored only 10 times during this slump.

“We’re doing things right, but we just can’t score goals,” Sabres captain Jaroslav Spacek said after Buffalo’s latest setback. “We scored two goals and that isn’t enough. We can play better.”

But it’s not only the offense. Ryan Miller – usually one of the NHL’s most reliable goaltenders – is struggling, too. Two days after being pulled in a 5-3 loss to Ottawa, Miller allowed four goals on 29 shots. It was his 14th consecutive start.

“I felt out of sync,” Miller said. “It’s hard to come from behind. We pressed too hard and too long. We didn’t have the scorers we needed.”

The good news? Buffalo still is above the .500 mark at 19-18-3. Clearly, there still is time to turn things around, but the Sabres will have to create more traffic in front of the net when they return to the ice Tuesday night at New Jersey.

Nothing like trying to score more goals and have Martin Brodeur standing in your way. That’s like trying to learn how to drive minus a steering wheel.

Short Staffed -- For the first time in five tries this season, the Chicago Blackhawks failed to find a way to defeat the Detroit Red Wings.

Well, some of them failed.

Denis Savard’s club, which dropped its fifth straight (0-4-1) in Sunday night’s 3-1 loss, was forced to play without seven regulars. Brent Sopel (finger), James Wisniewski (knee), Jonathan Toews (knee), Jason Williams (groin), Kevyn Adams (knee), Dave Bolland (finger) and Ben Eager (concussion) all were forced to sit.

With a depleted lineup, the Blackhawks were unable to generate much offensively – they recorded only 20 shots on goal - and received only two power play opportunities. Rene Bourque scored Chicago’s lone goal, which came in the second period.

Savard believes the next few games, beginning with Tuesday’s tilt against the Montreal Canadiens, could be the difference in whether or not the Blackhawks will reach the postseason. Chicago currently sits in 13th place in the Western Conference, six points behind the No. 8 Colorado Avalanche.

“We’re a .500 team, but we think we’re better than that,” Savard said. “The way we started when we were healthy, we feel we can be a playoff team, and I still do. The next two or three games hopefully will get us going. As a young team, we’re fragile.”

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