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Coach Ruff takes blame for Sabres sputtering start: 'It's on me to clean up this mess'

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Ottawa Senators' Milan Michalek, top, celebrates a goal by teammate Erik Karlsson, not shown, as Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller (30) and Christian Ehrhoff (10) react during the second period of their NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, in Ottawa, Ontario. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Fred Chartrand)The Associated Press

In taking responsibility for the Buffalo Sabres' sputtering start, coach Lindy Ruff remains confident the team can dig itself out of an early-season hole.

It begins with Ruff, who says it's on him "to clean up this mess."

Ruff was both upbeat and defiant on Thursday in the face of mounting criticism directed toward him, while assessing a team that's lacked identity and consistency in getting off to a 5-8-1 start.

The Sabres returned to practice after a day off. It's their first two-day break between games since the first week of the season, and it closed a stretch in which they played 14 games in 24 days.

Buffalo now prepares to open a three-game homestand Friday, when it hosts Northeast Division-leading Boston (8-1-2).