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Loss doesn't ease Sabres' logjam

One game and a couple of practices are all that's left before the Buffalo Sabres front office must make up its mind.

Opening night is less than a week away, and that means it's crunch time for the players still vying for roster spots.

The Sabres went into Wednesday night's 5-2 loss to the Ottawa Senators in HSBC Arena with one goalie, two forwards and two defensemen too many.

"We're in a logjam right now," said Buffalo co-captain Daniel Briere, who had a goal and an assist. "We have good players we know we're going to lose. There's a couple good players that probably should be in the NHL, and you might lose guys that could come back and haunt you down the road."

The Sabres are gearing up for the regular season. They have emphasized speed and discipline -- two elements that weren't always evident against the Senators -- and the roster will reflect that once General Manager Darcy Regier and coach Lindy Ruff trim down to 23 players.

"I don't think any of them will be easy," Ruff said.

The Sabres had been cruising through the preseason. They entered the game atop the Eastern Conference standings at 5-1. But they finally ran into a squad dressed for the regular season.

The Senators, with old friend Dominik Hasek making 23 saves, matched the Sabres in the speed department.

A crowd of 15,779 saw the Senators jump to a two-goal lead and never look back. Zdeno Chara, Steve Martins, Chris Neil and Anton Volchenkov got the puck past Sabres goalie Martin Biron before Chris Phillips added an empty-net goal.

Ruff's decision to use Biron one night after giving Ryan Miller the start against the Toronto Maple Leafs doesn't bode well for Mika Noronen. Biron and Miller have started three games apiece, while Noronen has gotten the nod only once.

Ruff said he would decide today if Noronen would get the chance to play in Friday night's preseason finale against the Minnesota Wild in Rochester.

"Marty has played two good games, and Ryan has played three real solid games," Ruff said. "No exact science on how those games ended up. Is that whole scenario fair? Probably not, but I think you have to place a bet here or there, and as a coach you go with your gut."

Among the forwards, at least two decisions are coming. The names Ruff mentions most often when discussing the possibilities are Taylor Pyatt, Tim Connolly, Ales Kotalik, Derek Roy, Paul Gaustad and Jason Pominville.

The Sabres have been impressed with Connolly's preseason, and Gaustad appears on the verge of making it because he offers one major trait the other centers cannot: size (6-foot-4, 217 pounds).

Pyatt has been noticed in his past two preseason games. Although he took four penalties Tuesday night in Toronto, he did battle his way through a defender along the boards and beat Ed Belfour for his first preseason goal late in the game.

On Wednesday night, Pyatt accepted Brian McGrattan's challenge to fight. McGrattan, who racked up an American Hockey League-record 551 penalty minutes last season, easily won the bout, but Ruff wasn't concerned with the result.

"It showed that there's still some fight in Taylor and he realizes he's going to have to do some things that are a little out of character," Ruff said.

Roy could find himself at a disadvantage because he's the only forward still in camp who won't need to clear waivers to be assigned to Rochester.

"I don't take anything for granted," said Roy, who has no goals and two assists in five games. "I know I played 50 games for Buffalo two years ago, but we got some great talent up front."

The battle for the final defensive spots will come down to Brian Campbell, Jeff Jillson and Doug Janik.

Campbell has played in six of the Sabres' seven preseason games but hasn't registered a point, while Jillson has a goal and two assists in five games. Janik, whose forte is toughness more than offense, has dressed only twice.

"We got one game left before the real games start," Jillson said. "We can't worry about numbers or decisions that are out of our hands. We just have to go out as players and do the job as best we can and let the chips fall where they may."

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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