Sabres-Maple Leafs Preview

The Associated Press

Apparently the Buffalo Sabres did just what coach Lindy Ruff recently suggested, looking into why the team has fared so poorly. It seems management felt he was a big part of the problem.

A day after the winningest coach in team history was fired, the struggling Sabres begin a new era looking to avoid a third consecutive loss as they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Buffalo (6-10-1) opened with two straight victories but has since won four times in 15 games and once in the last five. Only three teams in the league have fewer points.

The Sabres were booed several times by the home crowd Tuesday as they endured a series of mental lapses during an overall lackluster performance in a 2-1 loss to Winnipeg. The locker room remained closed longer than normal after the game, though Ruff eventually emerged to share his frustration.

"I'm embarrassed," Ruff said. "We've got to take a hard look at everything."

Buffalo's brass apparently looked deeper into the job Ruff was doing, and opted to let him go following a 90-minute practice Wednesday. General manager Darcy Regier called Tuesday's loss a "tipping point."

Ruff had been the longest-tenured coach in the NHL, having won 571 regular-season games since his hiring in 1997 and leading Buffalo to eight postseason appearances. However, the Sabres missed the playoffs last season and haven't been past the first round since 2007.

"The hockey world knows how I and the entire Buffalo Sabres organization feel about Lindy Ruff not only as a coach but also as a person," owner Terry Pegula said in a statement released by the team. "His qualities have made this decision very difficult. I personally want Lindy to know that he can consider me a friend always."

Ron Rolston was promoted from Rochester of the AHL to take over as coach on an interim basis for the rest of the season. Rolston, who has never played or coached in the NHL, is the older brother of 300-goal scorer Brian Rolston.

Even longtime Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller seemed to imply changes may be coming when he spoke to reporters after Tuesday's loss.

"Something needs to get shaken up with our attitude more than anything," Miller said. "It's definitely mental on our part."

Buffalo has been held to one goal twice and shut out once over the last five contests. The Sabres' 12.9-percent power-play conversion rate, including 2 for 37 this month, ranks among the lowest in the NHL.

Buffalo did snap a five-game losing streak in Toronto with a 2-1 victory Jan. 21 but has since given up an average of 3.9 goals in seven road games.

The Maple Leafs (10-7-0) avenged that defeat with a 4-3 overtime win in Buffalo on Jan. 29.

They enter this matchup coming off their second loss in eight games, 4-2 at Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Toronto, though, has won its only two home games over the past two weeks - by an 8-2 margin - after dropping four of its first five while getting held to nine goals.

"Thursday is a new game, a new team and we have to up and ready to go from the start," said forward James van Riemsdyk, who scored his team-leading ninth goal Tuesday.

With James Reimer still dealing with a knee injury, Ben Scrivens could be back in net despite being pulled against the Lightning after allowing four goals on 13 shots. Scrivens made 71 saves while posting shutouts in his previous two starts.

"It seems like I was getting some fortunate bounces the last couple of games, and (Tuesday) they bounced the other way," said Scrivens, who stopped 18 shots in last month's loss to Buffalo. "That's the nature of the game. Those are the breaks."

Van Riemsdyk has eight points over the past eight games but none in his last three against the Sabres.

Buffalo's Jason Pominville, who scored Tuesday for his first point in seven games, has five goals and seven assists in his last nine versus Toronto.

Teammate Thomas Vanek ranks among the league leaders with 12 goals but has one in the past five games. He has six assists but no goals in his last seven against the Maple Leafs.

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