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Loss leaves Miller with few answers

Pads still strapped to his legs, goaltender Ryan Miller spent nearly 20 minutes slumped at his locker Friday night pondering the Buffalo Sabres' latest gnawing defeat.

Like his teammates, Miller had few answers.

"How many posts did we hit? Just the way things are going," Miller said after the 3-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. "Eventually they're going to go our way. Right now, it's hard not to be [ticked] off. They're divisional games and we've got to show up and have offense."

No one in the Sabres' locker room had a problem with the team's effort. But the goal by Toronto's Bryan McCabe that opened the scoring with 35.2 seconds left in the second period came on a clean faceoff win by Mats Sundin and put plenty of momentum in the Leafs' favor.

"It just started things off on a bad direction for the third period," Miller said. "We had some breakdowns. I don't even want to talk about the system right now. We played better but there's moments where we just don't want to do it."

It was hard to fault Miller on any of Toronto's goals. You get the impression he might have to pitch a shutout to bail out his team's struggling offense.

"He might have to," admitted coach Lindy Ruff. "It's baby steps to get out of [a slump] but you've got to generate the chances first."

The Sabres had plenty of those as they attempted 70 shots in the game (30 on goal, 20 blocked, 20 missed) while the Leafs tried only 31 (23-7-1).

"It was a strange game," said defenseman Nathan Paetsch. "I had a couple unbelieveable opportunities myself and it just seemed like it wasn't going to happen for us. I guess that's the way hockey goes sometimes.

"We've got to start getting more goals for [Miller]. He's been completely shutting the door and we haven't got on the board. We have to give him some support."

Miller acknowledged his team's effort but took a bottom-line approach to the final result.

"We've got to find the medium where we're better on offense and we're responsible on defense," he said. "We'll find the right mix eventually but it's a tough time to be finding yourself when you got six more divisional games in a row."


Managing partner Larry Quinn said earlier in the day he's concerned about the trend toward tighter defenses in the NHL. He also insisted he's not worried about his team even though the Sabres are struggling to escape the Northeast Division cellar.

"I'm not going to get into excuses," Quinn said, clearly referring to the departures of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere via free agency. "We all figured this year that we had a lot of change in our team. Guys had to play different roles and when that happens, there's an adjustment and you're going to get some stuff that you don't like.

"But I believe in these guys 100 percent, the coach and management, and I'm just not worried at all about it."


Defenseman Jaroslav Spacek, who has missed eight of the last nine games with a shoulder muscle injury, returned to the lineup for Friday's game and 19-year-old Mike Weber was returned to Rochester. Spacek played nearly 24 1/2 minutes, second on the team to defense partner Brian Campbell's 26:17.


Quinn said at least 54,000 of the 67,000 tickets sold for the Jan. 1 outdoor game against Pittsburgh in Ralph Wilson Stadium have gone to Western New York ticket holders. . . . It was the Leafs' first shutout win in Buffalo since a 2-0 victory on April 2, 2004. . . . This was the Leafs' second of four visits to Buffalo. The Sabres don't make the first of their four trips to the Air Canada Centre until Jan. 19.


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