BUFFALO – The stumblebum Sabres have lost three straight contests and seven of eight. Tens tilts into the 48-game schedule, they have only three wins and seven points. They’re last in the Northeast Division and 14th in the Eastern Conference after falling 4-3 on Tuesday in Ottawa following a late rally.
After missing the playoffs last season and starting this campaign so wretchedly, should the Sabres be concerned changes are coming among the player ranks or even the coaches?
“I think you’re always concerned,” coach Lindy Ruff said this afternoon inside the First Niagara Center after the Sabres practiced nearly an hour on a day they were originally scheduled to have off. “My job is to keep the morale up. I think the hope for the team has been real good. The guys have been positive, they’ve been upbeat.
“I thought they dug in, tried to come back in the game, tried to fight through the adversity. We were a toecap away from tying it on (Jordan) Leopold’s shot with the goaltender pulled. So you got to give them credit for really digging in.
“But I understand the other side of it, too. We need to win games. We need to win them now. We’ve lost two or three that I feel faceoffs have cost us.”
But what about Ruff, who’s been around since 1997? Could these awful 10 games start the clock ticking on the NHL’s longest-tenured coach?
Sabres goalie Ryan Miller said, “That’s not something that we’re going to have to sit and worry about” now.
“We’re trying to get ourselves in a good place to play hockey,” Miller said. “This is the team we have. This is the coaches we have. We’re not going to look at them like, ‘Uh, it might happen.’ … It’s not lost on us that we need to play better hockey. But I don’t think now’s the time to start panicking. It’s time to keep building.”
Ruff said he spoke with owner Terry Pegula this morning.
“We talked hockey,” Ruff said.
Some of the Sabres’ numbers are downright terrible. They’re 30th in goals allowed (3.70) and faceoff percentage (41.3, a full four percentage points behind Edmonton).
Ruff spent much of today’s session drilling the Sabres on playing faceoff losses properly. He estimated the Sabres chased the puck 70 percent of the time Tuesday.
“That’s hard hockey, and our faceoffs have to get better,” Ruff said. “That’s going to start with every guy in the dot at least trying to saw it off where we can get help to come in.”
The Sabres practiced today because they kn0w they must get better quickly, especially with Montreal, a team that throttled them 6-1 on Saturday, coming in Thursday.
Ruff went to the team’s leadership.
“(I) said, ‘You know, we need to work on some things. I think it would be a good idea if we could flip a day here or there,’” Ruff said. “It is a situation where we know we’re digging out of a hole. We got a lot of guys out. We got a lot of guys in new positions. There was lots of stuff to go over.”
Sabres captain Jason Pominville added: “I think it was something we decided as a group that we had some things to do, to work on. I think everybody hopped on board.”
In injury news, defensemen Christian Ehrhoff (muscle strain), Robyn Regehr (lower body) Andrej Sekera (bruised foot) and Mike Weber (maintenance) all missed practice. Regehr, who’s on injured reserve, skated alone this morning.
Ehrhoff will likely sit again Thursday.
Meanwhile, winger Patrick Kaleta (neck) practiced in a non-contact role for the first time since getting taken to the hospital on a stretcher last Tuesday.
“You realize why you play the game when you have to get taken to the hospital on a stretcher,” Kaleta said. “You think about certain things (like), ‘Hopefully, everything’s OK, or, ‘Is this going to be the last time I’m ever going to suit up?’”
Kaleta wants to return Thursday, although he’ll likely miss his fifth game.
“I’m available whenever the coaches may need me, no matter what the case may be,” he said.
Ruff’s being more realistic.
“I think in all fairness that’ll be a coach’s decision and I’ll make a wise one on that,” he said.