Unhappy with his team’s performance of late, and with two weeks left in the regular season, Ruff put the Eastern Conference-leading Sabres through a gruelling 90-minute practice Monday: a not-so-subtle reminder that this is not the time to let up.
“There were some parts of our game I was embarrassed about,” Ruff said, still stewing over a 4-1 loss at Toronto on Saturday. “We’re not going to hide from it. We’re not happy with the way we played.”
It didn’t matter that the Sabres split the home-at-home series with the Maple Leafs or have registered at least a point in six of their past seven games, going 4-1-2 over that stretch.
Ruff was more disturbed that the Sabres were out-shot 79-54 during the two-game series, and would have lost both had they not rallied from a three-goal third-period deficit to pull out a 5-4 win Friday.
“Every game has playoff ramifications,” said Ruff, whose team has a chance to finish first in the overall standings for the first time in franchise history. “We need to answer the bell because that’s the type of hockey you’re going to need to play going into the post-season.”
“Hopefully, it’s the last one,” co-captain Chris Drury said. “I think the overall theme was, ‘You’re not going to win them all, but you certainly can control your effort, your focus and competitiveness.’ We lacked that for a big chunk of six periods this weekend.”
The Sabres have seven games left, starting with a home game Wednesday against New Jersey, which has 96 points and is tied with Pittsburgh for the Atlantic Division lead. With 103 points, Buffalo is five ahead of Northeast Division rival Ottawa and tied with West-leading Nashville for first overall.
By finishing first, the Sabres would gain home-ice advantage through the playoffs. The added benefit would be Buffalo entering the post-season on a roll.
“This isn’t a situation where we should be letting each other off the hook,” goalie Ryan Miller said. “I think there were some situations where we weren’t competing hard enough.”
Miller’s comments echoed those he made immediately following the loss Saturday, a game in which he was pulled early in the second period after allowing three goals on 21 shots.
“I was a little ticked off after the game,” Miller said. “Maybe I went a little too far, but I think everybody would say that we didn’t compete hard enough to a man. And sometimes you’ve got to voice your opinion.”
“He was right,” co-captain Daniel Briere said, referring to Miller. “We didn’t play very well in front of him those two games.”
Ruff said he wasn’t aware of Miller’s outburst. But he didn’t disagree with his goalie.
“It’s OK to be angry,” Ruff said. “As long as the player takes care of his area before speaking out, I’m OK with that. … Everybody should be upset with what went on in those two games. And he should be one of them.”