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Buffalo must cope with rare losing streak

NASHVILLE -- Although many hockey observers will be checking out tonight's game as a potential Stanley Cup preview, the Buffalo Sabres head into their meeting with the Nashville Predators as nothing more than the next opportunity to snap out of a funk.

The Sabres finally have lost two in a row, and the streak easily could extend to three against the Central Division leaders tonight in Gaylord Entertainment Center. The Sabres will visit the St. Louis Blues on Saturday before coming home for Christmas and then hosting four straight home games through New Year's Day.

"It's an important road trip," Sabres winger Jason Pominville said. "At the start of the year we said we didn't want to lose two in a row, and now it's happened."

And it's happened in a big way by Sabres standards. Not only did the Sabres become the last NHL team to lose consecutive games, but they also came at home against Northeast Division rivals. The Ottawa Senators defeated them, 3-1, on Saturday. The Montreal Canadiens thumped them, 5-2, on Tuesday.

"It's going to be interesting to see how we react," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "It's the first [adversity] we've crossed. We're having a tough time getting the puck in the net. Hopefully, going on the road will do something good for us."

The Sabres have been .500 from Dec. 2 on, winning three games in regulation time since Nov. 22.

Hockey's most prolific offense has scored only 12 goals in the past six games, going 3-3 in that span. The once-vibrant power play has converted only five of its last 60 chances, with three of those being scored while up two men.

"We're not getting a lot of bounces," Ruff lamented. "We had a couple laying around the goal line [Tuesday against Montreal]. We had a couple opportunities that you look at as home runs a month ago. Now they're just going foul. We've got to battle through it."

Buffalo's mantra had been bombarding goaltenders with as much rubber as possible. That hasn't worked. While their previous season high in shots was 37, they rattled off 44 against the Canadiens and have averaged 40 in their back-to-back losses.

"It's hunkering down now and knowing that we're not getting a lot of breaks," Ruff said. "We've got to work for our opportunities. We've got to get better on special teams.

"The road is not a kind place for a lot of teams. Our record has been good. We've paid attention to detail. It's knowing that after you've dropped two in a row at home, now you've got to go out on the road and make up for it."

The Sabres own the league's best road record at 14-3 and haven't lost when reaching overtime.

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For those Sabres fans wigging out over their team's past few games, know this: If they go .500 the rest of the season, they'll finish with 98 points.

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No word on whether a corn-cob pipe extended from his clenched teeth as he walked out of HSBC Arena, but winger Clarke MacArthur shall return -- some day. MacArthur, who made his NHL debut Tuesday night, didn't make the trip to Nashville. The Sabres on Wednesday reassigned him to Rochester.

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Although tonight's game features the NHL's two longest-tenured coaches, they have squared off against each other only nine times because of the NHL's limited interconference schedule. Tonight will be their first meeting since November 2003.

Barry Trotz has coached the Predators since their inception in 1999, while Ruff is in his ninth season behind the Sabres' bench.

Both rank among the top 20 in games coached. Tonight will be Ruff's 690th regular season game, ranking him 13th all-time. Trotz will be coaching his 609th, ranking him 19th.

The Sabres are 3-5-1 against the Predators and haven't beaten them since January 2001.

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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