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Sabres refreshed for second half

NHL.com @NHL

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -Refreshed from a four-day break, Chris Drury and the Buffalo Sabres were buzzing about teammate Daniel Briere being selected MVP of the NHL All-Star game.

"That's all anyone was talking about today," Drury said after practice Thursday. "It was pretty cool."

"Maybe he can give me a lift every once in a while," added Jochen Hecht, referring to the new truck Briere received as part of the most valuable player award for his goal and four assists in the Eastern Conference's 12-9 loss to the West at Dallas on Wednesday.

Briere wasn't around to provide Hecht with an immediate answer. The Sabres' co-captain and his fellow All-Star teammates, plus coach Lindy Ruff, traveled directly from Dallas to Columbus, Ohio, where Buffalo returns to action against the Blue Jackets on Friday.

Individual achievements aside, the end of the break means fun time is over for the East-leading Sabres (33-12-4). The competition will become more fierce in the final stretch with teams battling to climb in or stay in playoff contention.

"Teams are going to be desperate for those points," Jason Pominville said. "Hopefully, that'll make us a better team."

Despite their record, the Sabres have some room for improvement after they limped into the break, going 4-5-1 in their last 10 games, capped with a 4-3 loss at Montreal on Saturday.

The five regulation losses matched the number the team had in its first 31 games of the season.

The Sabres are struggling on defense, having allowed three or more goals in each of their past six games.

And their offense, which still leads the league with 185 goals, is suddenly sputtering. Buffalo has scored four goals in regulation only twice in its past 11 games, a significant drop for a team that was averaging four goals per outing through its first 38 games.

Much of the problem can be attributed to the Sabres' power-play unit, which has been as productive as a pop gun of late.

The Sabres have converted a mere 15.8 percent of their 266 power-play opportunities, tied for 23rd in the NHL. They've been particularly inefficient of late, having gone 3-of-38 in their past eight games.

"We really have to get that straightened out and find a way to be better at it," Drury said.

Hecht believes the break will prove beneficial.

"I think everybody got their head cleared, got away from hockey for a little while," said Hecht, who is ready to return after missing three games with an undisclosed lower body injury. "We're looking forward to getting back on track."

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