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Time to get on a roll is long overdue

The Buffalo Sabres are looking to start a winning streak tonight against the New Jersey Devils. If it seems like it's been a long time without one for Blue and Gold, you've got the right feeling.

The Sabres have not won two straight games since taking three in a row from Nov. 5-11. They're 6-10-3 in the 19 games since -- and that's their longest stretch without a winning streak since the lockout.

In fact, it's their longest drought since a 23-game stretch from Jan. 14-March 4, 2003 when Buffalo went 7-9-4-3 (four OT losses, three ties).

"First and foremost we have to get a little bit healthy and [Monday's 4-2 win over Washington] helped us in the health category," said coach Lindy Ruff, referring to the return of Brad Boyes and Jochen Hecht. "Now it's to try to put a little bit of a run together."

"That's going to take playing like we did last year when we went on the road, played a lot of road games and won in a lot of tough buildings. You have to play smart hockey on the road."

Added defenseman Christian Ehrhoff: "We can be happy with the way we played [Monday] but on the other hand, we have to make sure we come out the same way [tonight] and get on a little roll here. It can't be that we have one good game, then we don't play the way we want in the next game."

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Nathan Gerbe skated in a non-contact role at practice Tuesday but he has passed his post-concussion testing and should be full-go at today's morning skate. That might put him about a week away from returning to the lineup.

[Concussions] are all different," Ruff said. "Some guys have been able to do a pretty heavy workload before they get to the ice, some get on and they're not even close to being ready. In Nathan's case, he got in some pretty good off-ice work. Now after 2-3 days, we'll get a pretty good idea of where he's at."

The Devils were 5-1 in their previous six games until Monday's 4-2 loss at Carolina, a game capped by an empty-net goal that was credited to Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward and was just the 10th by a netminder in NHL history. It came when Ilya Kovalchuk's pass back to the point went the length of the ice into the empty New Jersey net.

Ward was the last Carolina player to touch the puck and thus got credit, the fourth time a goal has been given to a netminder that way. Former Sabre Mika Noronen was one of the others, getting credit for the empty netter in a 6-4 win at Toronto on Feb. 14, 2004.

"I should make a better decision than that, definitely," Kovalchuk said. "I just missed [Adam] Henrique coming from the bench. I tried to hit him and it missed everybody."

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The Devils gave up a short-handed goal to Carolina's Brandon Sutter -- their NHL-leading 11th short-handed tally against this season. No other team has allowed more than five.

The Devils have built their record in part through an incredible 8-1 mark in shootouts. No other team in the East has more than three shootout wins and the only team in the NHL that even has more than four is Colorado (6-0).

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Thomas Vanek played 18 minutes, 30 seconds Monday and had no ill effects from the shoulder injury that has dogged him the last few days. He also practiced Tuesday for the first time in a week. The Sabres have a 5-1-2 record at Newark's Prudential Center since it opened in 2007, with the lone loss in regulation coming in the 2010 season finale as Buffalo allowed an empty-net goal while trying for a win and a shot at the No. 2 seed in the East. Washington center Mathieu Perreault practiced with his team Tuesday after spending some time late Monday in Buffalo General Hospital after taking his stick to his midsection.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com