Photo: AP

From December 17th through the 31st the Buffalo Sabres were 1-5-1. During the month of January so far they are 2-4-1.

So, they’re improving! Right?

The latest loss comes at the hands of Detroit (*spitting noise*), a 5-0 shutout that has the team, the media, and the fans shaking their heads. This is no longer just a slump, this is a tailspin. Something needs to be done.

Some in the peanut gallery have suggested that Head Coach Lindy Ruff has lost the confidence of his team, and the locker room is a morgue. The coach also came out and plainly said that he and GM Darcy Regier have discussed — and dismissed — a trade as the solution to the problem.

So… what are you going to do, boys? Call up the entire farm team? Motivational speaker? Mexican hat dance? If I were Regier I’d be looking to make a move. Whether it’s the coach or the team, something’s gotta give. But chances are nil that the Sabres make that move before taking the ice in Chicago tonight, so it will be a wounded and weary team that the Blackhawks have to face.

Big-money forwards Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek are delivering the goods, but the offensive punch drops off significantly from there. The high-profile off-season acquisition of Ville Leino has become the definition of “flame-out,” with a mere 10 points (3G + 7A) to go with his minus-9 rating. And formerly awe-inspiring goaltender Ryan Miller is now 11-13-2 with a 3+ GAA and save percentage below .900. He also suffered the humiliation of being yanked against the Red Wings — in front of his home-town crowd, and while playing against his brother Drew.

Though it’s hard to blame Miller when all but one of the defensive corps in front of him has a negative plus-minus. Even the marquee names (and salaries) of Robin Regehr, Christian Ehrhoff, and Jordan Leopold are putting up execrable numbers. Tonight is the 3rd game of a 7-game road trip, and by the looks of things this team is tired and banged up already.

Which is not to say that the Blackhawks will run roughshod over this team. Chicago has their own problems to contend with.

On Tuesday, injured forward Daniel Carcillo was officially placed on Injured Reserve, and in fact underwent successful knee surgery during the late morning. We wish him a quick and complete recovery, and wish him well in his chosen endeavor — for it is unlikely you will see him in a Blackhawks uniform ever again. I’m quite happy to be done with the lad, and equally happy that I won’t be typing his name on these pages anymore.

But with a roster spot officially open, the Blackhawks called up feisty forward Ben Smith to join the plentiful list of wingers competing for the opportunity to dress for games in the coming weeks. In particular, this puts acute pressure on Michael Frolik and Bryan Bickell to step up their game. Blackhawks TV announcer Pat Foley made a point of mentioning (with measurable disgust in his voice) that Bickell had been credited with 3 hits in his last 5 games. That situation will have to change if Bickell wants to get closer to the ice than the press box. Frolik, it appears to me, is just a hot-and-cold player who tends towards barely Luke-warm more often than not, and we’ve seen the best of what he can give this team. I would be surprised if either of them finished their contracts wearing an Indian Head sweater.

Don’t expect to see much change in the lineup from the win over San Jose on Sunday, with the exception of Smith being inserted for one of the underperformers mentioned above. Pleasant surprise rookie Andrew Shaw extended his scoring streak to 3 games, so you can bet Head Coach Joel Quenneville is going to continue giving him regular shifts. The first line combination of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Viktor Stalberg yielded 2 goals last game — count on those three being together again tonight.

Administrative nonsense: the Sabres are without forwards Tyler Ennis and Colin Stuart, as well as defensemen Brayden McNabb and the aforementioned Ehrhoff — all are in the injured list. Still no change in Patrick Sharp’s status, but he is on-schedule for a 4-week recovery from his wrist injury. Corey Crawford is the announced starter for Chicago; Ryan Miller gets the start for the Sabres.

Early start tonight to accommodate the network pukes again: 6:30 puck drop at the United Center. The game will be carried live across the entire continent: NBC Sports Network in the United States, TSN2 in Canada. WGN AM-720 has the broadcast radio coverage; and satellite radio customers will find the game on XM 212 and Sirius Premiere 211.

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