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It's a slump no matter how you spell it

How bad are things going for Rob Niedermayer right now?

The veteran forward is still without a goal in 35 games for the Buffalo Sabres. He took a pair of penalties in Saturday's 5-3 loss against the New York Islanders and played a season-low 7 minutes, 36 seconds. And he's even played the last three games with his last name spelled wrong on the back of his jersey.

Talk about an odd hat trick.

Niedermayer did not score in New Jersey's five-game playoff loss to Philadelphia last season. And he didn't score in the final 13 regular-season games for New Jersey, either. So that makes it 53 games and counting.

"It's tough. I'd definitely like to be contributing more offensively," Niedermayer said after practice Monday. "You just have to try to keep doing your job. You don't think about it too much. You want to get as many pucks at the net as you can and that's all you can do."

Niedermayer, who has eight assists and a minus-3 rating on the season, understood why he was chained to the bench for much of Saturday's game. He played just two shifts totaling 55 seconds over the last 30 minutes.

"Any time you take a couple penalties and put your team short-handed, you just can't do it," he said. "You make mistakes like that and you're not going to play. I understand that."

Coach Lindy Ruff insists Niedermayer has a couple goals this year on deflections that he didn't claim or weren't credited to him. Nonetheless, the stat sheet still says zero.

"He's given us some good games where there's been no offense," said Ruff. "The game on the island with a couple penalties is tough on a veteran player like that. He wants to produce and be a positive. Michael [Grier] and Rob are two veteran guys that are low on confidence right now and that stems from not being able to get on the board."

As for the jersey mixup, Niedermayer has played for three straight games with his name spelled "Neidermayer" on his back. The Sabres got a new set for the second half and the mistake wasn't caught until Saturday. It will be fixed for tonight.

"I didn't even notice to be honest with you," a surprised Niedermayer said when told about the gaffe Monday. "I'll have to remedy that."

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Ryan Miller is expected to make his 22nd straight start in the Buffalo goal tonight and he's 11-8-2 over the previous 21 games. Miller is 4-2-1 in January but his goals-against average is a bloated 3.07 and his save percentage is just .909.

Saturday's loss marked the sixth time in the last 10 games Miller has given up at least four goals. His GAA for the season is 2.72, and he's slipped to 30th in the NHL in that figure among the 49 goaltenders who qualify for the leader board. He's 28th in save percentage at .911.

Miller was second in both categories last year at 2.22 and .929, respectively.

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A special teams matchup to watch tonight will be the Buffalo power play against the Montreal penalty killers.

The Habs lead the league in road penalty-killing percentage at 91.3, having given up just eight power-play goals away from the Bell Centre all season. They're second overall at 86.3 percent.

The Sabres, meanwhile, have dramatically improved their power play at home to 21.2 percent, which is 10th in the league. They're connecting at a whopping 33 percent (13 for 39) in the the last 10 home games.

Overall, the Buffalo power play is 18th at 17.8 percent. It's just 23rd on the road (14.3).

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Forward Patrick Kaleta (hand) continues to practice and will be checked again today by team doctors. He could return in the next couple games if the medical report is good.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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