In this Jan. 11, 2012 photo, Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff talks with players during NHL hockey practice in Buffalo, N.Y. Inconsistent goaltending, a popgun offense and a rash of injuries have combined to dash the high expectations that followed new owner Terry Pegula\'s free-spending summer.(AP Photo/David Duprey)
BUFFALO, N.Y. - Sabres owner Terry Pegula says injuries are behind his underachieving team's struggles, and he is confident Buffalo will bounce back in the second half of the season.
"I think we'll get Humpty back together here by the all-star break and we'll have our Buffalo Sabres back the way they were designed to be at the beginning of the season," Pegula said in a telephone interview. "It's not four or five players, there have been 18 players involved. It's like, 'Who's playing tonight? Who's on first?'"
Pegula said it's too early to consider a shake-up because it's difficult to evaluate his team's needs. The first-year owner also backed Lindy Ruff, saying the coach has had his hands full dealing with a roster decimated by injuries.
"He's got duct tape and baling wire out right now," said Pegula, who asked fans for patience. "There's no way you can evaluate our team. It's crazy to do it. And if fans don't understand that, they should look at (injuries) before they jump to conclusions that this team is what it is, because it's not."
Prior to hosting Toronto on Friday, the Sabres (18-19-5) have gone 8-14-5 over their past 27 games. It's a stretch in which they have not won two in a row while having a revolving door of players shuffling in and out of the lineup.
The Sabres have had 18 players miss at least one game due to injury, including goalie Ryan Miller (nine games with concussion/whiplash), defenceman Tyler Myers (19 games broken wrist) and forward Ville Leino (10 games, broken foot).
Centre Derek Roy is expected to return Friday after missing two games with a shoulder injury. Defenceman Christian Ehrhoff has resumed skating in non-contact sessions after hurting his shoulder two weeks ago. Centre Tyler Ennis has also missed 10 games with an ankle injury.
The Sabres project to have a full contingent of players by the NHL's all-star break in two weeks.
They'll need all the help they can get in preparing for a seven-game road trip that begins Saturday against the Islanders. Buffalo has lost seven straight in regulation on the road, matching the franchise's longest skid. That's not what was expected from a team which Pegula vowed to transform into a bona fide contender after committing nearly US$140 million in new contracts last summer.
"You can't evaluate what we put together until we get it back together again. And I think we're pretty close," Pegula said. "I'm going to jokingly tell everybody that nobody's allowed to get hurt for the rest of the year. Everybody has to suit up, and there's no injuries allowed."