With his offense seemingly unable to score much away from home, coach Lindy Ruff believes the sputtering Buffalo Sabres will have to rely on a strong defensive effort to end one of the worst stretches in franchise history.
The Sabres look to snap their 11-game road skid Saturday night against the surging St. Louis Blues, who have recorded two straight shutout wins at home.
Buffalo fell 3-0 at home to the Blues on Feb. 18 in the most recent meeting, but this will be the Sabres' first visit to St. Louis since Dec. 27, 2009, when they ended a four-game losing streak at the Scottrade Center with 5-3 victory.
They now limp into the Gateway City after Thursday's 4-1 defeat at Winnipeg. Drew Stafford scored for the Sabres (19-23-5), who have been outscored 46-15 over the course of the road losing streak - with all 11 defeats coming in regulation.
"To score, you have to have the puck ... and that's a key reason (why we've struggled)," said Ryan Miller, who stopped 29 shots and fell to 0-8-0 with a 3.98 goals-against average in nine starts during the road skid.
The Sabres haven't notched a win away from home since beating Nashville on Dec. 3. They've been outscored 19-5 through the first four games of a seven-game trip, their longest of the season.
"It'll take a strong effort from our goalie, probably to be the first star of the game (to end the losing streak)," Ruff said.
Miller, on pace for his worst season in virtually every statistical category, is 1-2-0 in his career against the Blues, but has never played in St. Louis. Backup Jhonas Enroth - 0-6-2 overall since beating Washington on Nov. 26 - has yet to face the Blues.
Another area of concern for Ruff's club is special teams. The Sabres have surrendered two power-play goals in each of the last two games, boosting their opponents to 12 for 40 (30.0 percent) during the road losing streak. Buffalo has gone 4 for 29 (13.8 percent) with the man advantage in that stretch.
"You've got to win that battle," Ruff said.
The Sabres have the task of trying to solve a St. Louis team that's 7-0-1 in its last eight games - recording four shutout victories in that span - and is battling Detroit and Chicago for the Central Division and Western Conference leads.
The Blues (28-12-6) have the league's most home points with a 20-3-3 record, posting a pair of 1-0 victories there this week behind Jaroslav Halak. He turned away 22 shots to defeat Dallas on Monday, then stopped 15 to beat Edmonton on Thursday.
Halak, who started 2011-12 with six losses in seven games but is 10-0-3 in his last 13, hasn't surrendered a goal in 148 minutes and 28 seconds. Early last season, he had a career-best scoreless streak of 160:08.
"He's aggressive, he's sound and he's compact. When you've got the flexibility that he has, good things are going to happen," St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said of Halak, who is 3-2-0 with a 3.16 GAA and a shutout in his career versus Buffalo.
Brian Elliott, whose 1.68 GAA is still the best in the West, could get the start considering he's 9-0-2 with a 1.81 GAA all-time against the Sabres. St. Louis' team GAA of 1.93 is the league's lowest.
Alex Pietrangelo, who scored against the Oilers, has three goals and eight assists during an eight-game point streak. Pietrangelo's 11 points this month lead all NHL defensemen.
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