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Once-proud penalty killers now in a funk

Derek Roy feels it every game now. It's a repeated ding to his pride, a short, sharp punch to his psyche.

Roy's problem is power-play goals. The Buffalo Sabres are simply giving up too many. They've given up at least one in seven straight games, easily their longest slump of the season as they head into tonight's game against the New York Rangers in HSBC Arena.

It's really bugging Roy.

"It does," the center said Friday. "We were top two, three in the league, and then we dropped. I don't even know where we are right now. We're getting scored every game on it.

"[I] take a lot of pride in penalty killing. I think everybody on this team should. Everybody should take a lot of pride in working hard and not letting in goals short-handed."

As Roy said, the Sabres have indeed dropped in the penalty-kill rankings. When Montreal came to town Feb. 6, the Sabres were third in the NHL with an 85.6 percent kill rate. The Canadiens went 1 for 3 to start the opponents' run, and it's gotten progressively worse.

The Sabres have killed just 13 of the past 22 short-handed situations, a paltry 59.1 percent. Entering Friday night's games, Buffalo was down to seventh in the league at 83.1 percent on the season.

"We've been a little snake-bit, but we've got to be better in that area," coach Lindy Ruff said. "It's an area that was real good, and it's going to have to be good for us to move on.

"You try to be around that 85 percent mark. We've taken a lot of pride in being around the top, and recently we haven't fared as well. That's 1 for 6, 1 for 7, and realistically that's pretty high expectations, but we do have high expectations when it comes to our special teams, power play and penalty killing. But penalty killing, we want to be a top-five penalty killing team."

It appears an ideal time to stop the slide, which is four games longer than Buffalo's previous worst. To say the Rangers' power play is inept would be a compliment. They are 28th in the 30-team league, succeeding just 13.7 percent of the time. It's been way worse lately. New York is 2 for 38 in the past 11 games, a miniscule 5.2 percent.

"We've just got to be better mentally on the penalty kill," Roy said, "know what we've got to do, where we've got to be and just work hard."

***

Buffalo's black-and-blue line is back to full health. The Sabres will have their pick from eight healthy defensemen tonight.

It appears Henrik Tallinder, the last dinged-up blue-liner, will return to the lineup.

"He's real close to playing," said Ruff, who slyly added on his way out of Friday's news conference, "Probably a day away."

Tallinder has missed the past dozen games with a shoulder injury suffered Jan. 21.

"I feel good," Tallinder said. "I think I'm pretty close to getting out there in the lineup. It's just up to the coach and what he wants to do. You don't want to be on the sidelines all the time. You just want to play."

There was no indication which defenseman -- Toni Lydman, Jaroslav Spacek, Teppo Numminen, Chris Butler, Andrej Sekera or Craig Rivet -- would come out of the lineup. Nathan Paetsch has been a healthy scratch for the past four games.

***

The Sabres are holding a food drive tonight to benefit the Food Bank of Western New York. Fans may donate nonperishable items at major entrances to the arena.

Tops Friendly Markets will match up to 1,000 pounds of food donated, and U.S. Grown Foods is donating 200 pounds.

***

Ruff on the Sabres' recent play, which has seen them go 6-5-1 since the All-Star break: "We've got to get out of this win-one, lose-one. We've got to put something together. It just falls on our shoulders to make sure that we can get on a little bit of a run."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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