February 04, 2015

At this point it wouldn't be surprising if the Buffalo Sabres believed the NHL's scheduling system was playing an elaborate prank on them.

Sitting among the Eastern Conference's cellar dwellers, the Sabres haven't done much through the first four of a five-game stretch against the best in the West.

Buffalo closes the slate Monday night at home with its second meeting in four days against the St. Louis Blues, who have won 17 of 19 in the series dating to 1999.

The Sabres (8-10-2) seemed to have recovered from seven losses - all in regulation - over their first 10 games with a 6-2-0 stretch that featured solid victories over the New York Islanders, Vancouver and Tampa Bay.

And then their schedule became a headache with a game against San Jose preceding two apiece versus Dallas and St. Louis (13-6-2). Those three clubs are a combined 43-18-2 this season and are the West's top three in points earned.

Buffalo managed to pick up a pair of points with an overtime loss to the Sharks and a shootout loss against the Blues, but the NHL-leading Stars outscored the Sabres 6-1 in the two meetings following a 3-0 victory Saturday in Dallas.

Oddly enough, it was the first time this season that struggling Buffalo was shut out. The Sabres came in with the league's fourth-best power play at 22.6 percent, but they went 0 for 3 to fall to 1 of 13 with the man advantage during their four-game skid.

They failed to capitalize on a 5-on-3 that lasted 54 seconds after also coming up empty on a pair of two-man advantages in Thursday's 3-2 loss in St. Louis. Buffalo went 0 for 4 on the power play in that contest.

"Obviously, it's something we need to work on," rookie center Jack Eichel told the club's official website.

"We had two against St. Louis. We could have used that one (Saturday), could have tied the game up. (A 5-on-3 is) a chance we need to capitalize. For us, it's frustrating knowing that we weren't able to get it done, and the 5-on-3 cost us a little bit."

A lack of goals has been the primary issue for the Sabres against the Blues in recent seasons. St. Louis has outscored Buffalo 24-7 while taking seven straight meetings and also owns a 10-1 differential in winning its last three visits to upstate New York.

The Blues, however, have hit a bit of a rut following an 11-3-1 start, losing four times - three in regulation - over their last six games. They've been outscored 21-14 in those contests with starter Jake Allen and backup Brian Elliot each taking two losses.

Allen opened with a 7-3-0 record, 1.53 goals-against average and .950 save percentage, but in his last four starts his GAA is a more modest 2.65. Elliot's downturn has been worse with a 0-2-1 record and 3.60 GAA since winning his first four starts.

Allen, who stopped 32 shots against Buffalo on Thursday and will likely get the nod in this meeting, made 28 saves in a 4-3 overtime loss against Detroit on Saturday.

Kyle Brodziak, Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko scored for St. Louis, which had 33 shots on goal after being held below 30 in its previous three games. The Blues will welcome Paul Stastny back into the lineup after the forward missed 16 games with a broken right foot.

Stastny, who had a goal and four assists in five games before the injury, will replace Scott Gomez, whom coach Ken Hitchcock said will be a healthy scratch.

"I think we were lucky to get a point. I don't think we played our best as a group as a whole, myself included," said Allen, who made 23 saves in a 1-0 win Feb. 5 at Buffalo in his first career start against the Sabres.

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