This is no mere offensive slump. This is a drought that nearly reached historic proportions and has sent the Buffalo Sabres skidding to the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Will this team ever take a lead again?
You've got to wonder after Saturday's hard-to-believe 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins before a crowd of 17,565, the first sellout of the season in TD Banknorth Garden.
The Sabres outshot Boston, 46-22, but were stoned time after time by Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas.
Chuck Kobasew's fluky power-play goal with 11:15 left, just 30 seconds after Daniel Paille's short-handed tally had pulled Buffalo even, gave the Bruins the victory.
The Sabres have not led in regulation at any point of the last seven games. The last time they were ahead was the final 8:48 of their 4-2 win Oct. 26 at Florida.
Despite that, coach Lindy Ruff again had no complaints with his team's effort. How could he? Buffalo dominated for long stretches in the Boston end, with the Bruins offering little resistance and leaving Thomas alone much of the time.
Jason Pominville had 10 shots on goal. Derek Roy had five. Clarke MacArthur and Henrik Tallinder had four apiece while Paul Gaustad and Jochen Hecht had three each. No goals from any of them.
Ruff said the result was eerily similar to his early days in Buffalo, when Dominik Hasek regularly stole games from frustrated Sabres opponents.
"I felt like the visiting coach when Dom was stopping 48 shots, we were getting 15 and we were winning, 2-1,"
Ruff said with a pained smile. "I thought we worked as hard as we possibly could and we got nothing for it. That's tough."
Paille's goal on a feed from Toni Lydman averted Buffalo's third shutout in four games -- something that hasn't happened to this franchise since Dec. 13-19, 1970, early in its inaugural season. It's just the fourth time in team history the Sabres have been limited to only three goals in a four-game stretch; that had not happened since 1996.
"We feel we've been playing a lot better," said Paille, whose third goal of the season was his first in seven games. "We're shooting at the right times and goals will come."
The Sabres weren't the only team on the ice Saturday that has been offensively challenged. The Bruins entered the game with four straight losses (two in overtime) -- and had just five goals in those four games.
But the Sabres were left cursing their misfortune on Boston's winning goal as Kobasew knocked it out of the air on the backhand from the right of the crease past a startled Ryan Miller.
After more than 38 minutes of scoreless hockey, the Sabres gave up the first goal for the 13th straight game when Marco Sturm converted a pass from Marc Savard with 1:44 left in the second period.
With the teams skating four on four, Sturm started the play when he pickpocketed Maxim Afinogenov at the Boston blue line and fed Savard, who streaked down the left wing. Savard found Sturm to the left of Miller for an easy tap-in that the goalie could do nothing about.
Ruff made his statement about the play by locking Afinogenov to the bench for most of the third period.
"To that point, Max had played real well," Ruff said. "He committed himself in a bad spot and that hurts. . . . It's a big mistake and when you don't score goals, one big mistake looks bad on you."
The Sabres looked destined to be shutout before Paille snuck into some open ice to Thomas' left and Lydman found him for the tying goal to end a shutout streak of 108:13.
It looked like the momentum switcher the Sabres needed. As it turned out, it was just a very temporary one.
Bruins 2, Sabres 1