The Buffalo Sabres didn't expect to be looking up at 10 teams in the Eastern Conference standings midway through January. They hope their latest performance is an indication they can reverse their recent slump.
Buffalo (20-19-6) looks to win consecutive games for the first time in nearly a month on Saturday night when it begins a season-high seven-game road trip against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Sabres hadn't won since a 6-5 shootout win at Philadelphia on Dec. 22, capping a six-game winning streak. Since then, they'd gone 0-5-5 - scoring 16 total goals - before taking out their frustrations in a 10-1 win over Atlanta on Friday.
Derek Roy and Drew Stafford had hat tricks for Buffalo - the first time Sabres teammates had scored three goals in the same game since Jason Pominville and Jochen Hecht did it in a 10-1 win over Los Angeles on Jan. 14, 2006. That was also the last time they'd scored double-digit goals.
"It doesn't happen often, scoring 10 goals in a game," Roy said. "I think everybody was anxious to get out there and contribute."
Though Buffalo had gone 10 games without a win, it was losing to quality opposition. Eight of the Sabres' defeats came against Ottawa, Pittsburgh and New Jersey. They're 1-4-5 against those East powers.
One season after posting the NHL's best record, Buffalo is struggling to stay out of the Northeast Division basement - only the Maple Leafs (44) have fewer points than the Sabres' 46.
Thomas Vanek, who tied for fifth in the league in 2006-07 with 43 goals, has been a disappointment this season after signing a seven-year, $50 million contract. The left wing has just 13 goals through 45 games, and scored just his second in 11 games against the Thrashers.
Though he had gone winless in his last eight starts, Buffalo's struggles can't be blamed solely on Ryan Miller. He was 0-4-4 during the team's 10-game skid, but had a 2.16 goals-against average.
Miller is 8-4-0 with a 2.88 GAA in his career against the Maple Leafs, but has lost his last two versus them including a 3-0 loss on Nov. 9.
Toronto (18-21-8) had been in a virtual free-fall since mid-December, posting a 2-9-2 record from Dec. 15-Jan. 12. But they've since won consecutive games, beating Southeast-leading Carolina 5-4 on Tuesday and topping Boston 3-2 in a shootout on Thursday to halt a six-game road losing streak.
Vesa Toskala made 29 saves in regulation and overtime stopped both shots he faced in the tiebreaker for his first career shootout win in eight tries.
"This was a big win for us and Vesa," said left wing Alex Steen, who scored in regulation and in the shootout. "We gave them the one point, but we are happy to come out of here with two."
Toskala, acquired from San Jose in June, has never faced the Sabres.
Special teams have been problematic for Toronto all season. The Maple Leafs are among the league's worst teams on the power play (14.6 percent) and the penalty kill, where they allow a goal 21.4 percent of the time.
Since Dec. 29, they've been shorthanded 42 times and have given up 14 goals.
Mats Sundin, who leads Toronto with 20 goals and 31 assists, hasn't scored a goal in his last 10 games against the Sabres at the Air Canada Centre.