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In the breakdown lane; A Sabres season that began with high expectations and a payroll to match has hit the skids thanks to malfunctions in nearly every facet<br>

It's been a complete collapse.

Bad goaltending. Bad offense. Injuries. Questionable offseason moves. Questionable coaching. You name it, there's a reason why one of the more anticipated seasons in Buffalo Sabres history already appears flushed down the drain with 33 games still left on the schedule.

The players will say otherwise because they have to, but it's clear the playoffs should not even be in the thoughts of a club that's 14th in the Eastern Conference and actually tied for last. The eye test shows a 10-point deficit and five teams to climb over, an arduous task. The numbers show an equally dark tale.

According to sportclubstats.com, the Sabres stand just an 0.6 percent chance of making the postseason party this season -- but an 80 percent chance of finishing in the bottom three of the East. That includes a 36 percent likelihood of finishing dead last.

This is not what Terry Pegula had in mind when he spent $189 million to buy the franchise last February, nor what he intended when he pushed the team's cap payroll

to the max at roughly $65 million for this season.

The Sabres finished the regular season last year 16-4-4 and probably should have beaten goaltending-challenged Philadelphia in the playoffs. So who would have thought swapping Tim Connolly, Steve Montador, Chris Butler, Mike Grier, Rob Niedermayer and Patrick Lalime for Christian Ehrhoff, Ville Leino, Robyn Regehr, Jhonas Enroth and full years from Derek Roy, Luke Adam and Marc-Andre Gragnani would have been such a bad deal?

Sure looked good on paper. Sure looks terrible on the ice. Not a single two-game winning streak since early November. How is that possible?

Here's a review of what's gone wrong and what's ahead:

He shoots, he doesn't score: The Sabres are 25th in the league at 2.37 goals per game and have a minus-30 goal differential that's 29th. The offense has completely disappeared in January, with a paltry 15 goals in the last 10 games as the team has gone 2-7-1.

And get this: In the team's last 17 periods, the entire group of forwards has combined for just three goals. That is simply pathetic.

Connolly, a pariah among fans and media at the end of his run here, is actually missed for his playmaking. Roy doesn't look like the same player he was last year before his torn quad and has battled shoulder trouble.

Leino was given $27 million to come play center and announced after a week he didn't like the position and wanted to go back to wing. Adam's confidence is toast after some early success, while Paul Gaustad and Jochen Hecht have added little. It's hard to imagine any NHL team with a bigger hole in the middle.

Epic droughts are evident throughout the lineup. Brad Boyes and Nathan Gerbe both have one goal in the last 26 games, while Leino and Adam have one goal in the last 23 games (and Adam has no points in the last 17).

Roy has two goals in his last 19 and two points in the last 12, while Drew Stafford (who surprised Buffalo reporters Monday by admitting he's been haunted by undisclosed family issues this season) has two goals in 18 games. Leading goal scorer Thomas Vanek has one goal in 13 games and just two points in January.

The Sabres have averaged 262 goals in the six seasons since the lockout. They're on pace for only 199 this year, which would be just the second sub-200 season in franchise history. For an organization that thought it was set up front, this club still needs a top center and now could use a big winger that can actually put the puck in the net.

No big saves: It's the worst season of Ryan Miller's career. Period. The Vancouver Olympics are nearly 24 months ago and this isn't the same guy. Miller is a ghastly 42nd in the league in goals-against average (3.07) and 38th in save percentage (.899). He seems slow in the crease and his glove hand, especially on high shots, has failed him. He can't possibly be 100 percent healthy, right?

Miller has given up three or more goals 19 times in 30 games. That hurts the offense too. No one thinks the big save is coming so the forwards can't burst from the zone.

The trade rumors continue to rumble around Miller, who insists he wants to stay. But the Sabres don't need to spend $6.25 million on a goalie if they're at the bottom of the conference. They could go with a journeyman veteran and the youngster Enroth, who has better numbers (2.59, .919) even though he's only 1-8-3 in his last 12 decisions.

While it seems unlikely a Miller deal would happen in the next month, that looks like a major decision for the offseason.

The end of R&R?: Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff have been here since 1997 and everything appears stale. Regier took Pegula's blank checkbook and seemed to do a good job in July, at least with Regehr and Ehrhoff. So far, Leino has been a disaster. Now the general manager must retool, but his deadline deals in the past have been mostly failures. Other NHL teams are privately relishing in big-money Buffalo's woes.

Ruff, meanwhile, seems to no longer have this team's attention. That can happen when the message gets old and all the players have made their money and got their cushy new locker room. Still, Ruff's constant line shuffles don't help matters and he's overly tough on young players (see Adam, Gragnani) while letting veterans off the hook too easily. It was good for once to see Ruff dump Roy to the fourth line in St. Louis after the veteran pulled the ole trick in Winnipeg trying to block a shot.

Here's a stat for you: The Sabres are a combined minus-32 in the second and third periods after going plus-2 in the first. Is Ruff getting outsmarted during intermissions?

Virtually any franchise in any sport would have jettisoned both coach and GM by now. But Pegula loves Ruff. The jury on Regier may be out until after we see what he does at the deadline. So if the coach or GM are staying, doesn't that mean that a bunch of the players have to be leaving?

In the locker room: For all the bells and whistles, it just seems like nobody's having fun. That certainly goes back to the Milan Lucic-Miller play. It's the turning point of the season (the team was 10-5 at the time) and the defining moment for this group. Gaustad, long considered Miller's best friend on the team, and Tyler Myers did nothing and heard about it from Ruff and Regier. The bad message sent to the rest of the league: Play this team physically and don't worry about paying a price.

Now, Nashville's Jordin Tootoo did pay when he ran Miller three weeks later but too often wrongs aren't made right. Gerbe got crushed from behind by Philadelphia's Marc-Andre Bourdon and Gaustad got plowed by Chicago's Jamal Mayers and there was nothing. Patrick Kaleta and Cody McCormick can't be the only responders, and they're limited too -- Kaleta by the NHL's clear targeting of him for any hit and McCormick by a concussion he's just over.

In the trainers' room: There are a ton of rumblings about the conditioning program, especially since former Bills strength coach John Allaire was brought on as an assistant by the Sabres. The Bills had a terrible injury run under Allaire and lots of folks want to connect the Sabres' dots to him, but that seems coincidental.

The Sabres aren't dealing with a lot of muscle pulls. There's been a run of broken bones and concussions, hardly indicative of a team not properly working out. Some of them were downright fluky but what they also show, however, is a team overmatched physically many nights. And that can lead to injuries. And at 225 man games lost, there's no question injuries have ruined this season.

Still, reporters would love a dollar for every time Ruff or a player said, "Injuries aren't an excuse but we've had a lot of injuries."

Terry's time: Pegula has to know this is broken. He's not still acting as the No. 1 fan and following Regier's theory that this is all about injuries. Right?

You wonder. Pegula played the injury card big-time earlier this month in a slew of interviews. The fixing Humpty Dumpty analogy joins John Rigas' "tools to finish the job" speech and Tom Golisano's "I'll eat this microphone if we don't make the playoffs" promise as ownership chatter he might regret. Pegula should have said injuries are always a factor but he demands more from his team.

Team President Ted Black has been more honest in his assessments, and his preaching of patience earlier in the year to several outlets has clearly given way to frustration on his weekly radio show. Black isn't a hockey department man per se, but you figure he has Pegula's ear.

Pegula told Sabres employees on Day One he doesn't like getting rid of people. But now some firings are needed, whether they are players, the GM or the coach. Pegula has to show he has the stomach to do it.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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First-half follies /A starting lineup of trouble spots

1. Offensive offense:

Vanek's sudden slump merely makes him one of the guys.

2. Holes in the crease:

Worst year of Miller's career, and Enroth can't buy a win.

3. The R&R Show might be ending its run:

More pressure than ever on Lindy and Darcy.

4. Who's got myback?

Lucic let the world know that in this locker room, it seems like no one does.

5. M*A*S*H unit:

Is it all a fluke or a sign of an overmatched team?

6. Your move, Terry:

Is Pegula just the No. 1 fan or the man to make the tough decisions?