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Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff watches from behind the bench during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, Nov. 18, 2011. (Associated Press)

Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff watches from behind the bench during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, N.C., Friday, Nov. 18, 2011.

(Associated Press)

Ruff in tough as Sabres slump Add to ...

Darcy Regier is the first NHL general manager of the season to be pushed into saying his head coach's job is safe.

The Buffalo Sabres GM was pushed into the declaration because the local media and fans are not happy with the team's 3-6-1 start. Only the Washington Capitals are worse in the Eastern Conference, although not by much.

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A few hours before Regier told The Buffalo News any changes on the team will not include the longest-serving coach in the NHL, Lindy Ruff said even coaches like him who have had the same job for more than 15 years worry about their future when the team isn't winning.

"I think you’re always concerned," Ruff said Wednesday, shortly after he a planned day off was scrubbed in favour of working on the Sabres' defensive play. "My job is to keep the morale up. The hope for the team has been real good. The guys have been positive. They’ve been upbeat. They dug in, tried to come back, tried to fight through the adversity.

"So you’ve got to give them credit for digging in but I understand the other side of it too. We need to win games. We need to win them now."

The Sabres have not won a game since Jan. 31 when they beat the Boston Bruins. Their work in their own zone is awful, as the Sabres allowed 37 goals in 10 games, the most in the NHL going into Thursday's game against the Montreal Canadiens.

Ruff was hired by Regier in July, 1997, which makes him the longest-tenured coach in the NHL by a huge margin. There was some thought both he and Regier, who became the GM a month before he hired Ruff, would not survive in the long term when Terry Pegula bought the Sabres two years ago this month. But Regier signed a contract extension last month and Ruff is thought to have at least two years left on his contract.

While Regier has taken his lumps in the media since the Sabres missed the playoffs in three of the last five seasons, Ruff was generally spared any sustained criticism. Before Regula bought the team, the criticism was heaped on former owner Tom Golisano, who ran the team on a strict budget, which saw free-agent stars like Daniel Briere and Chris Drury sign with other teams.

However, since Pegula came along, Regier has been able to spend millions on players like defenceman Christian Ehrhoff, which worked out, and forward Ville Leino, which has not.

Goaltender Ryan Miller, who's search for consistency is not being helped by the utter helplessness of backup Jhonas Enroth, said the players are not concerned about the coaching.

"That’s not something we’re going to have to worry about," he said. "This is the team we have, these are the coaches we have. We’re not going to look at it like it might happen or a what-if kind of situation right now.

"It’s definitely not lost on us that we need to play better hockey. But I don’t think now is the time to start panicking. It’s time to keep building. We have to climb out of a hole. We can’t dig ourselves deeper by talking about [Ruff] or us as players and how effective we’re being. We all can be effective."

Follow on Twitter: @dshoalts

 

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