BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Buffalo entered its game against the Penguins at HSBC Arena last night with a league-high 31 points.
It has exceptional depth and balance, outstanding speed and skill and a coach, Lindy Ruff, who demands hard work at both ends of the ice.
It also has an unfortunate habit of giving up leads.
Before facing the Penguins, Buffalo had failed to protect a third-period advantage in four consecutive games. The Sabres were ahead by three goals in one of those games and by two in two others.
What's more, even though they were 15-2-1 going into the game last night, the Sabres had gotten the first goal and made it through an entire game without being caught only four times.
"It is something we talk about," right winger Jason Pominville said yesterday. "The lead is something you want, so, when you have it, you don't want to lose it. It's happened a few times that we did. Sometimes, we managed to come back, but it's not the way [the Sabres like to operate]."
Buffalo has not been as stingy on defense as it would like -- the Sabres allowed an average of 3.05 goals in their first 18 games but had countered that by producing 4.55 of its own.
"We got away with a lot of games where we were giving up three or four goals, because we know we can score a lot," center Daniel Briere said. "But that's something we have to tighten up."
He added that the rules, and rules interpretations, the NHL adopted before last season make it more difficult for teams to protect leads.
"You can't just grab onto everybody and not let them skate," he said. "You're going to end up in the [penalty] box. The toughest thing is to realize that, even though you're up, you have to keep going, you have to keep putting the pressure on them, attacking their net. It's just human nature to sit back."
Jagr on cusp of milestone
New York Rangers right winger Jaromir Jagr scored 439 goals during his 11 seasons with the Penguins and has picked up 160 more since he left.
That means he is poised to reach a major milestone when New York visits Mellon Arena tonight at 7:38, because he is about to become the 16th player in NHL history to get 600.
Jagr won't be the first Ranger to get there this season, however; Brendan Shanahan did it when he scored twice against Washington Oct. 5.
The reaction if Jagr gets No. 600 tonight will be interesting because, after being a favorite of the home crowd for nearly his entire tenure with the Penguins, he has been the subject of loud, sustained booing since being traded to Washington in 2001.
Injuries plague Sabres
Sabres center Derek Roy is expected to miss about two weeks because of a hand injury -- Ruff declined to say whether it is broken -- and joins defenseman Henrik Tallinder (broken arm) and Toni Lydman (neck) on Buffalo's injured list.
Right winger Maxim Afinogenov returned last night after missing five games because of a shoulder problem and goalie Ryan Miller (abdominal strain) could get a start as early as tonight, when Buffalo visits Ottawa.
Nonetheless, it's clear that Ruff believes injuries -- Buffalo had lost 38 man-games to them before last night -- have caused significant problems for his team.
"I'm frustrated," he said. "But it's something we're not going to use as an excuse."
Winger Ronald Petrovicky, who has been on a conditioning assignment with the Penguins' minor-league team in Wilkes-Barre, is supposed to return to Pittsburgh today after making a final appearance with the Baby Penguins last night. ... Forward Ryan Malone, out since Oct. 21 with a broken left forearm, hopes to have his cast removed Monday. Malone still must rehabilitate his wrist and regain his strength, so he isn't expected to resume playing until at least the first week in December. ... The Penguins will sponsor a food drive before the game tonight for the benefit of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Fans who bring a non-perishable food item or make a cash donation at Gates 1, 3 or 10 before the middle of the first period will be eligible to win autographed Penguins merchandise.