The respite is almost here. Following tonight's game against the Ottawa Senators, the Buffalo Sabres will have nine days off. With several key players bruised and battered, the break seems to be arriving at a welcome time.
Coach Lindy Ruff, however, has no desire to stop playing. The Sabres are 8-3-1 in the last 12 games, and Ruff doesn't want their best stretch of the season to disappear like nickels in the cushions as the players sit on their couches and watch this weekend's All-Star Game.
"We've been going pretty good, and you'd like to keep playing," Ruff said Monday. "We've closed the gap and got some games in hand on the eighth-place team, so I look at it that it would be nice to keep rolling."
The schedule and injury list dictate otherwise. The Sabres will head home after tonight's game in Scotiabank Place, and with the exception of rookie forward Tyler Ennis (who is participating in the All-Star festivities) they won't be on the ice again until Monday. The next game isn't until Feb. 4 in Pittsburgh.
By then, they should be healthier. Center Tim Connolly (hip) and right wing Patrick Kaleta (broken hand) both will miss their second straight game tonight. Left wing Thomas Vanek is expected to play, but he will be limited by an upper-body ailment.
"He's just going to have to deal with what he's dealing with," Ruff said. "The good news is the break is after [today], so that should help.
"The only person that's progressing is [Drew] Stafford. He skated [Monday], and if that went well he's a possibility."
Stafford has missed three games with a groin injury. The Sabres' second-leading goal scorer was the only player to take the ice Monday. He went to the rink while the rest of the team did a light, off-ice workout at the hotel. Ruff skipped practice to give a breather to his squad, which is closing a stretch of five games in eight days. The Senators figure to be fresh after sitting idle since Friday.
"It's an important game for us, and that's why we put some thought into what we wanted to do," Ruff said. "With the schedule being five in eight and them not playing for a few days, we felt the best thing for our team to do was just rest and get a light off-ice workout in, and we'll get ready for the game [this] morning."
The Sabres, obviously, would love to head into their extended vacation on a two-game winning streak. The Senators want to end the month with two wins.
The Sens are in a freefall, one that has the owner making calls from Barbados and the players worried about new addresses. Ottawa is winless in five games (0-4-1) and 1-8-3 in the last 12.
Speculation about the futures of the players, coach Cory Clouston and General Manager Bryan Murray prompted owner Eugene Melnyk to talk with the Ottawa Sun over the weekend from his Caribbean home.
"At this time, it makes no sense to make managerial or coaching changes," Melnyk told the newspaper. "We'll let the season play itself out and look forward to building for the future. We're going to do what it takes to bring the Stanley Cup to Ottawa, whether it takes one, three or five years. It will happen. You have my commitment."
Murray shortened the timeline Monday.
"I don't think we're very far away from being a good hockey team," he said. "Obviously, you have to make some changes when you perform like we did, but I think it's one year. I think we can be back as a real competitive team real quickly."
The Senators aren't competitive now. They lost their last two games by a combined 13-3. Goaltender Brian Elliott is winless in 10 straight starts, and he's expected in the crease tonight. Star center Jason Spezza is out until after the break with a shoulder injury.
"We have to understand there's going to be personnel changes if we keep losing," Spezza said. "We all get along real well here, and what we don't want to see as players is a lot of changes. You're playing for each other, and obviously it's inevitable there will be changes if you're losing hockey games."
SABRES VS. SENATORS: Faceoff: 7:30 p.m. Scotiabank Place TV: MSG Radio: 550 AM Season Series: Sabres lead, 2-1