A slow start cost the league's formerly longest-tenured head coach his job on Wednesday. That leaves the Buffalo Sabres little time to process the franchise moving on from Lindy Ruff as they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs just over 24 hours after the coaching switch.
Ruff was hired by the Sabres on July 21, 1997 and had been a constant presence for the club since. He ranks second all-time among coaches in wins and games coached with one franchise, trailing only Al Arbour of the New York Islanders in both categories.
That all came to end when general manager Darcy Regier announced on Wednesday that the 53-year-old had been relieved of his duties. Ron Rolston, who had been serving as the head coach of the Rochester Americans of the AHL, was named interim coach of the Sabres for the rest of the season.
Ruff exits the Sabres with a record of 571-432-78-84 and having led the club to the playoffs in eight of his 14 full seasons as head coach, including four trips to the Eastern Conference finals and a loss to the Dallas Stars in the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals. However, Buffalo did not reach the postseason for the third time in the last five years in 2011-12.
The Sabres closed last season by winning 12 of their final 20 and finished ninth in the conference with 89 points, three back of the eighth spot. Buffalo enters play on Thursday, however, tied for 12th in the East thanks to a 6-10-1 mark through 17 games.
Regier cited a lack of progress as a reason for the coaching switch.
"I think we were making some strides, but in the end, for every two steps forward, it was one step back, and sometimes not that," said Regier. "Unfortunately, this is the time of year when the coaching is probably the thing that is evaluated the most."
The Sabres lost the final two contests of a three-game homestand, falling to the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 on Tuesday in Ruff's final game. Jason Pominville had the lone goal for Buffalo, while Ryan Miller made 26 saves.
Buffalo lost for the seventh time in its last 10 games. The consecutive defeats, which include a 4-3 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday, gave the Sabres back-to-back regulation losses at home for the first time since Feb. 11-14, 2012.
The Sabres play three of their next four on the road and snapped a five-game slide in Toronto with a 2-1 victory on Jan. 21. Miller came just 1:42 away from a shutout and made 34 saves.
The Maple Leafs, though, responded with a 4-3 overtime victory in Buffalo on Jan. 29, part of their solid road start to the season. However, they are coming off just their third loss in 10 road games, losing 4-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.
Mikhail Grabovski and James van Riemsdyk scored for the Maple Leafs, who lost for only the second time in their past eight games overall.
"We know these guys are tough to play against and we just couldn't get anything going," said van Riemsdyk, who potted his team-leading ninth goal of the season. "We were able to do a few things, but they got some bounces and have a ton of skill over there."
Ben Scrivens, who came into Tuesday's action off back-to-back shutouts, was pulled early in the third period after giving up four goals on 13 shots. Jussi Rynnas came on in relief and made six saves in his first action of the season and just third NHL appearance.
Toronto netminder James Reimer missed his fourth game in a row due to a knee injury.
The Maple Leafs are 3-4-0 at home this season.