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by Kevin Snow / Buffalo Sabres

Equipment bags were strewn about the Buffalo Sabres locker room today as they packed up to start a home-and-home series in Toronto on Tuesday night. It’s a sight the players will have to get used to, because the frantic packing is going to become a regular occurrence for the team’s equipment staff over the next few weeks.

Eight of Buffalo’s next nine games will be played away from the confines of First Niagara Center, including seven in a row starting Saturday on Long Island. In fact, once the Maple Leafs leave town following Friday’s home rematch, the Sabres won’t play at FNC again until February 1.

In order for the Sabres to start making a playoff push, it’s pretty obvious that winning on the road is going to have to be where it all begins. And based on recent history that’s not such a bad place to start. Since 2005-06, the Sabres have compiled a record of 129-88-29 (.583) on the road.

But while the road has been kind to the Sabres over the past six seasons, they’ve now lost six straight after starting the season 8-3-0. Their current 8-9-0 road record is in the bottom third of the league, and their 36 goals scored away from home are second only to Anaheim’s 34 for fewest in the league. Things won’t get any easier on the upcoming trip either, as they’ll face the league’s top three home teams in St. Louis (17-3-2), Chicago (14-5-4) and Detroit (15-2-1).

Last season the Sabres were 15-5-3 on the road after January 1. With 24 road games remaining, a similar finish would be just the kick they need.

“The fact is we’ve gotta go out and win on the road. We’ve been historically a lot better team. But to lose six in a row on the road. Our home play has been better, but our road play has been disappointing,” said Lindy Ruff. “When you’ve got teams right next to you, we’ve gotta start winning on the road. I think that’s where the biggest damage is gonna have to come from. You’re gonna have to play your system real solid, we’re gonna have to get great goaltending. It’s gonna be a lot of little things. We might have to win some real tight ones. It’ll only start with one game.”

It all starts tomorrow night at the Air Canada Centre against a Maple Leafs team that has averaged five goals per game during their current three-game winning streak. They are seventh in the Eastern Conference at 21-15-5 (47 points), six points ahead of the Sabres.

Having split the first two meetings with Toronto this season, Ruff knows what to expect from the resurgent rivals.

“They’ve got three lines there that are pretty creative. They got off to a great start against Detroit, and I thought the last half of that game Detroit really took it to them and outshot them really badly. They’re a team that if you make a mistake, they’ve got some good skill up front. They’ve been making a lot of good plays. It’s not just one line, it’s two or three lines.”

Derek Roy (shoulder) and Andrej Sekera (upper body) both took part in today’s practice in a non-contact capacity. Ruff said he wants Roy to get in a few more practices before he’ll consider him a possibility for the weekend, but wouldn’t hazard a guess as to when Sekera would be able to return.
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