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by Rob Crean / Buffalo Sabres
If there are any positives to be drawn from the Sabres’ three-game losing streak, it’s the recent play of Ryan Miller and the fact that Buffalo has not lost much ground in the playoff race.

Miller’s string of 31 consecutive starts came to an end last Wednesday when he took the night off in Montreal in favor of Jhonas Enroth, who helped Buffalo to a 3-2 shootout win.  Since then, Miller has been back in net for all three games and posted a 2.05 goals against average and a .935 save percentage, but has not been able to get in the win column as the offense has suddenly begun to struggle.

Photo: Bill Wippert
After scoring 25 goals in their five games leading into the current homestand, the Sabres have managed just two goals in the last three games.

“When you get in a stretch where you’re struggling on the offensive side… I think we’ve got a little bit away from what was making us successful,” said Lindy Ruff, who kept Monday’s practice at HSBC Arena to just under 30 minutes in length.  “Some of our players got away from really what made it good for us, and that was the simple part of the game.”

As for the playoff race, the seventh through 10th-place teams in the Eastern Conference were separated by six points entering play on Monday, with Buffalo in the mix in ninth place (60 points; 27-25-6).  While the Sabres have lost three straight, the New York Rangers (seventh place; 66 points; 31-26-4) and Carolina Hurricanes (eighth place; 64 points; 28-24-8) have each dropped two of three while the 10th-place Atlanta Thrashers (60 points, 25-25-10) have lost three in a row and seven of their last eight. 

Atlanta will be the next to visit HSBC Arena as Buffalo’s six-game homestand continues Wednesday.

“We’re frustrated, but at the same time, we’re getting a lot of help around us,” said Ruff.  “Carolina’s got to be frustrated and the Rangers have got to be frustrated and Atlanta’s got to be frustrated, so you’re going to have two frustrated teams going at it on Wednesday.”   

2/21 - Lindy Ruff Interview

Tyler Myers added that the Sabres will need to play better in order to capitalize on the recent struggles of the teams with which they are battling for playoff spots.

“The way we’re playing, we can’t play like that if we want to make the playoffs.  I would say we’re fortunate that they haven’t gained any ground these last few games that we’ve lost.  It’s an opportunity for us to take advantage of our games in hand and try to get back to even with them or even go past them.  We have a big game coming up here on Wednesday,” Myers said.

Defenseman Andrej Sekera was a healthy scratch for the first time all season on Sunday and said he understood Ruff’s decision to take him out of the lineup.

“I know I’ve skated well but my passing was off, so I’ve got to work on that” he said.  “I’ve been in this situation before, so you’ve got to play the best players you have available, especially at this time.  I guess I wasn’t the best player, so I was out.”

Following Monday’s practice, Ruff talked about his decision to sit Sekera and play Chris Butler.

“Andrej had struggled pretty bad for three or four games, and actually Chris had played well, so we just thought maybe a game off. We don’t know what we’re going to do Wednesday (vs. Atlanta) yet.  Andrej for the most part this year had gone well, he just had a pretty tough stretch there,” Ruff said.  “It comes down to puck movement and defending, and if you defend well, that’s first and foremost for any defenseman, and I think overall Chris had defended pretty well in the games he played.”

Butler has appeared in six of the last seven games, averaging 17:51 of ice time while recording one assist and a +2 rating.
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