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SABRES' SKID HITS 11 WITH LOSS IN OTTAWA

It doesn't take a critical thinker to determine what fate befalls a team that can't hold onto a lead or come from behind.

Chris Gratton gave the Buffalo Sabres another early lead Saturday night, but the Ottawa Senators scored all the other goals to earn a 4-1 victory in the Corel Centre.

Buffalo is 3-11-3 and has not won since Oct. 22, a span of 11 games.

The Sabres scored in the first period for the fourth straight game, and for the fourth time in six games they led at the first intermission.

But they have collapsed in the second period lately, and the Senators made sure the trend continued. Centers Mike Fisher and Todd White each scored in the second period. White and winger Marian Hossa added insurance goals in the third.

"As the game went on they came on," Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff said. "Once they made it 3-1 . . . we're a fragile team. We started to gamble and that started to snowball."

The Sabres have been outscored, 16-2, in their past 10 second periods.

"We're coming into the dressing room after the first period a few times now saying, 'OK, boys, let's not have a letdown,' " Sabres center Adam Mair said. "It's not the work ethic, but a few games now we've let a team come back after having the lead in the first. We have to build on the first period instead of sitting on it."

The Sabres will equal the franchise's worst all-time skid with a loss or a tie on the road against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday.

The Sabres went a dozen consecutive games without a victory 11 years ago. They also have lost six straight games for the first time since dropping seven in a row during the 1993-94 campaign.

"It's tough to get out of it right now," Sabres goalie Martin Biron said. "We just gotta get out of it. We gotta find a way. We gotta bear down, and bear down, and bear down.

"Hopefully, the gods of hockey will . . . not even that -- we have to make it happen. I don't think anybody else is going to just let us win or hand us a gift."

Biron stopped 19 shots, while Ottawa counterpart Patrick Lalime made 25 saves.

The Sabres had a bounce go their way for a change 4:56 into the game when Senators winger Marian Hossa got off a clean shot that beat Biron. But the puck struck the crossbar and dropped straight down on the blue side of the goal line.

Gratton's team-leading seventh goal gave Buffalo a 1-0 lead with 2:54 left in the first period. Sabres left wing Taylor Pyatt and defenseman Jay McKee kept the puck below the goal line, where Gratton picked it up, skated around to Lalime's left and banked his shot off the goalie's shoulder.

Buffalo entered the game with a 2-5 record when scoring first, while Ottawa was 2-4-1 when an opponent struck first.

Something had to give. And in recent second periods, the Sabres have been rather giving.

Buffalo quickly faced a four-on-two break, leaving Warrener and McKee scrambling. Chris Phillips left a drop pass in the right circle for Fisher, who tied the score 2:11 into the second period.

"That gave them the life to get back in it," Ruff said.

The Senators took the lead with 8:43 left in the second period. White, without a defender to challenge him, flipped a wrist shot from between the tops of the circles that found its way into the net through traffic.

The Sabres trailed at the second intermission. Their record in that situation is 0-8-2.

Hossa worked a wonderful give-and-go with defenseman Zdeno Chara to score 7:33 into the third period, and White notched his second goal less 91 seconds later.

The Sabres failed to score on both of their power-play opportunities. They have converted just four of their past 70 chances.

"Different nights it's different things going wrong," Sabres winger Rob Ray said. "Obviously the power play is struggling quite a bit, but you can't pick out a reason why. If you could we'd fix it."

Sabres defenseman Henrik Tallinder missed his fifth straight game with a shoulder injury. Eric Boulton was scratched in favor of rookie Ales Kotalik.

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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