Rattled Sabres

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

Here is a switch: The Buffalo Sabres needing a win against the Maple Leafs tonight to pass them and get back into playoff position.

Just goes to show that Toronto isn't the only National Hockey League city dealing with unusual weather patterns one month into the schedule.

Leafs coach Paul Maurice, who is coming under as much fire as general manager John Ferguson for the club's sputtering start, has been playing rainmaker with his lines and has been at his most demonstrative and hands-on in games and practices this week.

He is getting back injured winger Darcy Tucker and defenceman Bryan McCabe for tonight's road game. They join Kyle Wellwood and Mark Bell, who made their season debuts in Tuesday's 5-1 loss at Ottawa.

The Sabres, meanwhile, broke off their second three-game losing streak of the season that same night with a 2-1 overtime win over Boston.

LINING UP

Part of the reason, coach Lindy Ruff told the Buffalo News, is that many clubs have re-embraced a defensive approach and that has cut down on his club's speed advantage.

"The whole league is getting the disease where there's a lot of people back when you get to the blue line,'' Ruff said. "I can show you clips where we hit the line and there are four guys lined up, or five guys there. There aren't a lot of options.''

Toronto has neither won or lost three in a row this season. As a result, it's either fire someone or fire up the bandwagon night to night.

"We've been on a yo-yo here and we have to nip that in the bud," defenceman Hal Gill said yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena. "We have eight games against Buffalo and they're a good team. But you have to at least think about winning them all. With all the games we're playing (they are in the midst of a seven-of-eight stretch against Northeast Division foes), it seems the next game is always the most important one."

McCabe, who has missed six games with a groin strain, spoke of a new beginning to his season this evening.

"Any time is a good time to come back," he said. "Now's the time to get on a roll."

Tucker, bothered all season by minor ligament damage in his right knee, echoed that sentiment.

"I'm going to play far better than I did earlier this year," he vowed. "I've kept my mind fresh and clear."

Jason Blake is also hoping for better things as November unfolds. The left winger expressed a high frustration level on Wednesday when talking of how he hasn't meshed with his new team, notably Sundin.

"I've had chances, but haven't done my job," he said yesterday.

Despite some major juggling of lines tonight to accommodate the returning players, Blake will stay on the left wing with Sundin and Alexei Ponikarovsky on the right.

Though Toronto has had mostly poor showings in Buffalo since the Sabres came into the league (22-49-6-1), that does include two wins there last season. Any rink within fans' driving distance usually gives the Leafs an extra tank of gas, Maurice said.

"There is usually enough of a 'Go Leafs Go' chant to upset the fans of the home team," he said.


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