The Sabres have been emulating the buffalo on their uniform sweaters lately.
Put them in a fight against a fierce, snarling opponent, and they'll dig in and battle. But let an inconsequential gnat of a team near them, and they'll let the parasite feast.
It happened again Tuesday night, when the injury-ridden, undersized Atlanta Thrashers got the better of the Sabres, 5-4, in a confoundingly sloppy game.
"I don't think you can say we didn't come out and look for the two points tonight," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "We made a number of big mistakes, and every mistake went into the net. That's the bottom line."
Maybe it should be no surprise that Thrashers' standout center Ray Ferraro notched his second hat trick of the season, but the formerly solid Sabres defense also allowed Hnat Domenichelli to pick up two goals, including the game-winner with 5:53 left in the third period.
"We're telling our defense to jump up and get involved in the offense," Buffalo forward Rob Ray said. "When you do that, obviously you're going to give up outnumbered situations."
It was another difficult night for Sabres goalie Martin Biron, who started Tuesday after watching Dominik Hasek play the last four games. Biron had given up four goals in his last start, a loss in Tampa Bay to the Lightning. He couldn't be faulted very often against Atlanta, but still took his share of the blame.
"There are games when you have to step up to the plate and make the big save. I felt like tonight the big saves I was making were when the game wasn't on the line," Biron said.
Buffalo may have lost one of its top scorers for the rematch against the Thrashers, which will take place Thursday in HSBC Arena. J.P. Dumont strained a muscle in the second period and did not return. Ruff said Dumont's chances of playing Thursday were not good.
Doug Gilmour also missed some playing time Tuesday, leaving for part of the third period after taking a stick to the face. He returned to action after receiving some stitches.
For the first minute of the game, the Sabres appeared to be playing a continuation of their disastrous third period against Montreal on Sunday. Just 44 seconds into Tuesday's freewheeling first period, Miroslav Satan turned over the puck to Atlanta defenseman Jiri Slegr at center ice. Slegr pushed it to Ferraro, who skated in alone on Biron. The young goalie never had a chance, and the Thrashers were ahead, 1-0, on the first shot of the game.
Ruff wasted no time in punishing Satan's careless play, replacing him with Maxim Afinogenov on the Stu Barnes-Dumont scoring line, and Satan spent the rest of the period on the bench.
Satan appeared to have been rehabilitated when, 3:46 into the second period, he fed Chris Gratton with a precision cross-ice pass in front of the Atlanta crease. Gratton easily shook off Thrashers defenseman Andrei Skopintsev and flipped the puck past goaltender Damian Rhodes to tie the score at 2-2.
Ruff said about Satan's play, "He responded by scoring one goal and getting an assist on another goal. But there's no excuse for the play in the first period."
The Barnes-Dumont-Satan line was on the ice for another goal less than two minutes later. This time, Ferraro knocked down Barnes at the Atlanta blue line, and scored on a give-and-go with Donald Audette.
Buffalo's defense seemed to be on the wrong side of an odd-man rush throughout the game. At times, Thrasher puckhandlers skated untouched through the Sabres' zone; that was the case on Atlanta's second goal, scored by an unmolested Domenichelli 2:41 into the second period.
Hnat entered the game with just 14 points and a minus-20 rating, and was making his first appearance after missing 11 games -- and 15 of Atlanta's past 16 -- with a groin injury.
Domenichelli registered the knockout blow less than a minute after Ferraro's hard-fought third goal tied the score at 4-4. Domenichelli took a clean pass from Shean Donovan through the slot and, with Richard Smehlik and Alexei Zhitnik tied up with Donovan, punched the puck past Biron. The goal completed Atlanta's comeback from the 4-3 lead Vaclav Varada gave Buffalo on a spectacular solo effort at 11:13 of the third.
"We had plenty of chances to put the game away, and we couldn't find a way to do it tonight," Ray said.