Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has enough matters to worry about with his struggling club.
But he added one more item to his list of fears after a 2-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs
at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday evening. Ruff believes that Patrick Kaleta, the Sabres' toughest and sometimes dirty player, can no longer play his robust game.
Ruff didn't like the charging call on his forward when he nailed Toronto forward Mikhail Grabovski early in the third period.
"Kaleta just can't hit any more," said Ruff, who wasn't pleased his team went a game for the first time in three years without a power-play opportunity. "He can't. Every time he sits someone it's a penalty. He knows that. He can't hit anyone.
"I'm worried that he's a marked man. When [Toronto forward Nazem] Kadri can do what he did on [Sabres defenceman Jordan] Leopold, which was very similar, and yet Kaleta doesn't leave his feet and I don't think he hit him that hard. It used to be a good hit in the game. Now you get a penalty.
"I'm worried about him and I'm worried if he can't play his game."
Ruff must also be worried about his team's playoff chances. Last season, the Sabres had an identical 18-19-5 record after game No. 42 and then with new owner Terry Pegula aboard they went on a terrific 25-10-5 run to make the post-season. But there are no signs that the Sabres are about to turn it around like they did last year.
They still have injuries to deal with. They have lost 185 man games to injury so far this season. Buffalo was missing centre Derek Roy and defenceman Christian Ehrhoff against Toronto. Then sniper Thomas Vanek was limited to six first-period shifts because of what Ruff termed as either "food poisoning or a virus."
Ryan Miller has yet to snap out of funk this season that has seen him play below the high standard he has exhibited in previous years. The Sabres also have had difficulty scoring. While Toronto goalie Jonas Gustavsson did have a strong game, especially in the third period with his teammates sitting back, the Sabres lacked finish around the Maple Leafs' net.
In fact, this has been a problem since before Christmas because the Sabres have checked in with only 18 goals in 10 games.
"This might be my toughest stretch as a coach in which pucks won't go in the net," Ruff said.
Ruff is the longest tenured coach in the NHL. There have been 170 coaching changes since he was hired in the summer of 1997. But there is no sense that Buffalo general manager Darcy Regier will follow the path chosen by some of his brethren and make Ruff, who signed a multi-year extension last April, the eighth coaching casualty of the season.
But this is a Sabres team that has played some sloppy hockey. Buffalo hasn't won a road game in five weeks and it hasn't won back-to-back games since they put together a four-game victory string in early November.
No, it sure doesn't appear the Sabres have a 25-10-5 run in them.
"It's been frustrating," Miller said. "We're learning to play a better game.
"We've arrived [at this point of the season] differently [than last year] and the way we are playing we have to start looking for more positives and stop trying to play a perfect game."
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