Leino struggles to find way with Sabres

Six years. Four and a half million dollars per season. One goal and two assists in 13 games.

Not exactly what Ville Leino or the Buffalo Sabres envisioned when they came to terms on a free-agent deal back on July 1.

But that was where things stood after the Sabres beat the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a shootout Saturday night. Leino hasn’t found the back of the net since opening night in Helsinki, Finland. His assist Saturday was his first since Oct. 20.

"It’s been a little different — systems are different, players are different, so it’s been a little bit of a battle," Leino told reporters after Wednesday’s morning skate, ahead of Buffalo’s home tilt against the Flyers. "Some days you feel good and some days you don’t know what’s going on, but we’ll work on it and I’m sure we’ll get better."

That night, he lined up between team-scoring leaders Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville, with the hope that their strong starts would fuel the 28-year-old Finn. It didn’t, and Leino found himself back on the wing with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford before the game was even 10 minutes old.

He was pegged as one of the Sabres’ top two pivots when he was signed, having played center over in Europe. Ever since the Detroit Red Wings lured him to North America in 2008-09, however, he’d only seen shifts on the wing.

What is especially telling about Leino’s struggles is his shots on goal total — eight in 13 games. Twice he’s seen his ice time dip into single-digit minutes, including a season-low 9:35 against the Panthers on Oct. 29.

New Sabres owner Terry Pegula gave general manager Darcy Regier the green light to spend this offseason and he did, notably on Leino and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. There were high expectations on both the team overall and the prized free agents heading into the season. But that’s not an issue, according to Leino.

"I don’t really care about the pressure that much. I just try and get comfortable," he said. "Obviously you want to play a little more, get more ice time and feel better out there — get some goals and some points, help the team win and get some confidence."

That might just come from a solid effort against the Calgary Flames on Friday night. Skating again with Roy and Stafford, the trio was Buffalo’s best of the night. His linemates hit the scoresheet for the first time in seven games while Leino recorded his first shot on goal in nearly two weeks.

It can be considered a silver lining, under the circumstances, but it won’t mean much if the sun doesn’t shine through some time soon.

Northeast Division notes

The Toronto Maple Leafs continue to be one of the biggest surprises of the young season. Prior to Saturday’s 7-0 loss against the Boston Bruins, the Leafs sat tied with the Blackhawks and Penguins with an NHL-best 19 points. Their nine wins were also best in the league, equaling Washington and Dallas in that category. … After stumbling out of the gates with a 1-5-2 record, the Montreal Canadiens reeled off four straight wins, including two over the Bruins. David Desharnais, returning to center while Scott Gomez is out, had a team-leading five points (one goal, four assists) during the Habs’ winning streak. The streak ended with Saturday’s 5-3 loss in New York that saw the Canadiens fall behind 3-0 after the first period. … The Ottawa Senators will be forced to make do without Daniel Alfredsson for an indefinite period. The Senators captain was knocked out of last Saturday’s tilt against the Rangers with a concussion, the result of a hit to the head by forward Wojtek Wolski. "If I’m home with the kids and I do too much, I get light-headed and a little dizzy. I’ve got to sit down for a bit and then I feel OK again," he told reporters Thursday. "Until that’s gone, I’m not going to do anything physically."… While Tyler Seguin has gotten most of the ink for his strong play during the Bruins’ funk, C Patrice Bergeron has also been a bright spot for the struggling Cup champs. "You know what you’re going to get from a player like him on a daily basis. There’s no in between," head coach Claude Julien told ESPN Boston on Friday. "So that’s what you like about his game is the consistency that comes with him every day, whether it’s focus, whether it’s practice, whether it’s in a game, he doesn’t know how to let up." Bergeron entered Saturday’s contest on a five-game point streak that was extended with a three-point night. All of those assists were on goals by Seguin, who notched his first career hat trick.