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Myers' struggles telling ; Sabres usually losers when he plays poorly

There is standing tall the literal way Tyler Myers does as a normal part of his life and there's the figurative way he's trying to stay upright through the darkest segment of his NHL career.

Seven months after collecting the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie, the 6-foot-8 Myers endured his first benching Thursday in Boston and played a career-low 11 minutes, 56 seconds. Friday in HSBC Arena, a Myers giveaway led to the New York Islanders' first goal, which banked off the big guy's massive skate and skittered past a stunned Ryan Miller.

The Myers of January looks much like the Myers of October. Confused and uncertain, especially in the defensive zone. As the Sabres try to reclaim some shred of dignity against the Islanders and avoid a third loss to them in eight days this afternoon at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, they need Myers to look more like the player they saw in November and December.

"He's a little on the fragile side," coach Lindy Ruff acknowledged after Saturday's half-hour workout in the Northtown Center of Amherst. "That first goal started with the turnover, an area of the game we've talked about He saw something that wasn't there and that's the part that he's struggling with right now."

"It's tough but when something like that happens I have to put it behind me," Myers said. "You can't dwell on a play like that. I don't want to take myself out of the game. I thought after that I rebounded nicely and I can't worry about it."

The Sabres are plenty worried about Myers. He has a team-worst minus-14 rating and is minus-6 in nine games this month after combining for a plus-2 mark in November and December.

Myers has five goals and 13 assists for the season, way down from last year's figures of 11 and 37. He hasn't scored since his overtime tally beat Vancouver on Nov. 15 -- 26 games ago.

Want a snapshot of how the Sabres might do on a given night? Check out Myers' numbers. In the 20 wins he's played in, he has four goals, 11 points and a plus-10 rating. In 25 losses, he has one goal, seven points and a ghastly minus-24 rating. (Myers missed games in Calgary and Edmonton with the flu).

Ruff did not take benching Myers lightly. He bristled earlier in the season when asked if Myers' struggles merited a night or two in the press box. But the coach admitted Boston's second goal Thursday, which came after a Myers giveaway combined with some on-ice spectating from Tim Connolly, was a breaking point.

"It's important that if you're not playing well and costing the team on the defensive side, your minutes have to go down," Ruff said. "I just thought the other guys had played better around."

"I was not very surprised at all," Myers said. "We've talked about how the guys that are going are the guys that are going to play. I messed up on that second goal so I deserved to be benched."

Ruff did like the way Myers kept pushing his offensive game Friday, especially over the final 40 minutes.

"I saw opportunities to jump in the play and I have the green light to do that," Myers said. "I don't want to do it too much and take unnecessary risks. But if it's there, I want to go."

The Sabres will try to keep going today as they did over the final 40 minutes of Friday's game. After a complete no-show at the start put them in a 2-0 hole, Buffalo dominated long stretches of the 5-2 defeat. The Sabres had 38 shots on goal and 70 shots at goal, a huge number. But they were blanked for 56 minutes until Nathan Gerbe tallied twice in five seconds to set a franchise record.

"We didn't start well, ended up with the highest amount of scoring chances we had in a game but didn't convert," Ruff said. "You can't work that hard in the last 40 minutes and not convert."

In addition to the two losses in the last week, the Sabres are also dealing with a four-game losing streak to the Islanders in the Coliseum. Their last win there was Oct. 13, 2008.

"They've pretty much embarrassed us the two games we've played them," Myers said. "We can say we outplayed them the second and third but it's a 60-minute game and those first 10 minutes were one of our worst. We need to come out strong from the opening draw."

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com