Sabres shooting for consistency

LANCE HORNBY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:49 AM ET

The Buffalo Sabres don't like what they see ahead of them or in their rear view mirror.

"We're not one of the top teams in this league and I think we know that," winger Thomas Vanek said yesterday. "I think we can get there, but we have to be more consistent."

Sitting ninth in the standings, the Sabres opened 2009 last night needing to beat the Maple Leafs, not for local geographic bragging rights, but with an eye to preventing a second playoff failure in as many years.

A 2-1 home loss to the Leafs on Dec. 12 started the club zig-zagging through the holidays, unable to win more than one in a row.

Playing two fewer games against each Northeast opponents this season puts more emphasis on games such as last night's 4-1 win over the Leafs and the next two against front-running Boston and last-place Ottawa.

"Win one, lose one, we're in the pack with those teams and that's the pack we're trying to get out of," coach Lindy Ruff said before the game.

"We haven't been able to separate. That's the disappointing part. We'll win a game and follow it up with a tough (loss). We haven't played well at home (10-9-2), which has been a bone of contention. We've played better hockey on the road and hopefully, we can continue that."

Vanek, tied for second in NHL goals with 25 before the game, knows his feat will mean little if he's watching the first round from his living room in April.

"We have to put a streak together, maybe win five or six in a row, lose one and then put another one together," Vanek said. "Until we do that. we'll be average, we'll be middle of the pack.

"You look at the top four or five teams and they've gone ahead of the pack. I think for the rest, it's about putting a string of wins together and getting into that four, five, six spot and get away from seventh and eighth. But no one has been able to do that.

"This is still a good rivalry (with the Leafs), even though neither team is on top of their game or high in the standings. Both teams are fighting to get in the playoffs."

Ruff tried something new the past few days, re-arranging the seats in the dressing room so players would get "a new voice" in either ear.

"It's so we don't have three or four quiet players sitting next to each other," Ruff said. "Dressing rooms are pretty big now and you try to create some situations where players try to push each other. I've put our defencemen together if I want to address them. We're trying to get a little edge."

Vanek thought the shuffle was worth a try.

"It's a new environment, fresh guys," he said. "You come in and see the same two stalls next to you all the time, now you have two new guys you can talk to about what's going on and what they see in their eyes.

"It just comes down to being better on the ice."


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