DALLAS – Lindy Ruff used to get anxious facing Buffalo because it was his home for so long. The nerves are still there, but it’s for a different reason.
“Buffalo’s always going to be special,” Ruff said Thursday. “You get to the point where I don’t want to play them because I think they’re a lot better team now. They’re scary games. They’re tough games.”
Ruff and the Dallas Stars hosted the Sabres on Thursday, and Buffalo was looking for its fourth straight win and fifth in six games. That’s the type of run Ruff wants.
Actually, that might be the type of run Ruff needs. His contract is reportedly up at the end of the season.
“We’ve been trying to get on a run,” Ruff said in American Airlines Center. “To get on a run it’s going to take a combination of good play away from the puck, but usually it’s teams start scoring a few more goals. Some key players get on a run for you, and we haven’t had that on a consistent basis yet.”
Goaltending and team defense have let the Stars down – they rank 28th with 3.12 goals allowed per game and 27th with an .897 save percentage – but Ruff repeatedly pointed to offensive troubles.
“We’re generating the opportunities,” Ruff said. “We’re just not finishing. Some of the finish five-on-five hasn’t been there. We’re playing well enough away from it five-on-five, but the opportunities to put it in the back of the net on a consistent basis, we haven’t done it. That has hurt us.
“We like the way we’ve defended now for a couple of months. We cleaned up that first couple months where we were looser. We were trying to figure out who we were with the number of players who were out, the number of young guys we had in. We’ve really solidified that. Now it’s trying to become a stronger offensive team where the puck goes in the back of the net.”
Dallas is 17th in the NHL at 2.67 goals per game. It was No. 1 last season at 3.23. The offensive firepower pushed the Stars to the best record in the Western Conference at 50-23-9.
They entered Thursday with a 19-20-10 record while sitting four points out of a wild-card spot and six points back of third in the Central Division.
“It’s been tough, obviously,” Ruff said. “We started the year probably with half our forwards different, with half our D corps, a lot of injuries. We battled through that. We’ve had way too many missed opportunities.”
The Sabres got rolling with three straight wins in overtime. Dallas, meanwhile, lost its previous two games in a shootout and overtime. The Stars are just 2-10 after regulation, including 2-9 in overtime. The shootout loss to Minnesota on Tuesday was their only extra-session game not decided in OT.
“The biggest minus for us being further up the standings is the overtime,” Ruff said. “There’s a lot of lost points there, which tells us we’ve been able to be very competitive but we haven’t played well enough in that frame to put the other team away or get that extra five or six points. Even if it’s just five points, it would put us in a lot better place.”
Right wing Kyle Okposo is the only member of the Sabres who doesn’t have the weekend off. That’s fine by him.
While Buffalo breaks for NHL All-Star Weekend, Okposo will be part of the midseason gala in Los Angeles. The skills competition will be Saturday night, and the All-Star Game will be Sunday afternoon.
The highlight, however, could come Friday night. In honor of its centennial, the league will unveil its list of the 100 greatest players in NHL history. Dominik Hasek and Gilbert Perreault head the possible candidates from the Sabres.
“It’ll be fun,” Okposo said. “I’m looking forward to the festivities, especially with it being the 100 years. There’s going to be a lot of guys floating around, so that part of it will be pretty cool.”
Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said it would take time for left wing Tyler Ennis to fully recover from sports hernia/groin surgery. As Ennis prepared for the fifth game of his return, Bylsma feels he was right.
“A huge part of his game is his skating and his agility and his acceleration, and he’s still working to gain that,” Bylsma said. “It’s going to be a process for him doing so over the next couple of weeks. He’s shown spurts and bits of excitement in what he can do in the offensive zone and playing with it. We’ve also seen he’s still not up to 100 percent with his skating, and that will be a process for him.”