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Sabres rounding into form

by Brian Hunter

A few thoughts while we count down the hours to the Bridgestone NHL Premiere 2008 games beginning Saturday:

All-round effort – The Buffalo Sabres have another seven days before they open the regular season at home against Montreal, but they seemed to have the blueprint for success down pat in Thursday’s 5-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.

“We forechecked good," said Jochen Hecht, who scored the Sabres’ first goal and added an assist. "We were really patient. I think it was really good teamwork. Every line got a goal and everyone contributed.”

Ales Kotalik also had a goal and an assist, and Thomas Vanek, Teppo Numinen and Nathan Gerbe rounded out the scoring for Buffalo. Although the Sabres were outshot by the Blue Jackets, 29-23, they got a strong effort in net from backup Patrick Lalime and impressed coach Lindy Ruff with the way they competed on the ice.

“Our puck battles were good. We had a pretty good physical nature to the game,” Ruff said. “We were right there to match them.”

Buffalo, which improved to 2-3-1 in the preseason, has one exhibition game remaining, against Detroit on Sunday.

Derek Dorsett and Rick Nash scored for Columbus, which fell to 2-4 and has two more exhibition games before opening the regular season Oct. 10 in Dallas.

Bright spots – They couldn’t muster a victory in their final exhibition game at Sommet Center, but the Nashville Predators looked for the positives in a 4-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday.

Jason Arnott played for the first time this preseason, skating on a line with J.P. Dumont and Patric Hornqvist. Although they didn’t add their names to the score sheet, they generated some of the Predators’ best chances of the night.

“They had 16 shots between the three of them,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “They were slow out of the box, but I think it showed that Arnie hasn’t played a bit, but as he played more he started coming around. That, and the guys that had been out a while. Ville (Koistinen), I thought, played pretty well tonight for the most part. It was his first game, he did some good things.”

Goaltender Dan Ellis would have liked to get back the two goals the Hurricanes scored on him in a 54-second span early in the first period. Brandon Sutter beat him at 2:05 and Ryan Bayda added a shorthanded tally that put the Predators in an early hole.

“It did not go as well as I would have liked,” Ellis said. “The first just banked off a knee pad, the second one was just a bad goal. You’ve got to stop those ones coming down the wing. But I felt like our entire team settled in and finished strong. We did not get the result we wanted but it was a strong step forward.”

Eric Staal made it 3-0, but then Joel Ward and Vernon Fiddler cut into the Carolina lead in the third period. Staal added an empty-net goal in the final minute.   

A very happy birthday – Not every person turning 19 gets to celebrate in the fashion Josh Bailey did – but then again, not every person turning 19 was a recent first-round draft pick of the New York Islanders.

Bailey, taken with the ninth pick in June, signed his first NHL contract Thursday, a three-year, entry-level deal. The Bowmanville, Ontario, native currently is in training camp with the Islanders, trying to impress enough to make the opening-night roster.

“This is an exciting day for me and my family, especially when you sign your first NHL contract on your birthday,” Bailey said. “It’s certainly a day I’ll never forget. I still have a lot of work to do and I’m willing to do it.”

Bailey has spent the past three seasons playing in the Ontario Hockey League, piling up 58 goals and 183 points in 191 games for the Owen Sound Attack and the Windsor Spitfires. He took the next step last season by registering 28 goals and 96 points for the Spitfires, who named Bailey their captain for this season should he return to juniors.

“Josh’s hockey intelligence is definitely there,” Islanders coach Scott Gordon said. “He has a good head on his shoulders, which will make transitioning to this level easier.”

Ready to defend – Sergei Fedorov has scored 472 goals and 1,146 points in 17 NHL seasons, including 56 and 120, respectively, in 1993-94 en route to the Hart Trophy. Opponents fear him for his offensive ability, but the career centerman is prepared to help the Washington Capitals on the blue line if necessary.

Fedorov practiced as a defenseman Thursday and is expected to pair with Jeff Schultz when the Capitals play the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday. Washington coach Bruce Boudreau downplayed any speculation Fedorov was making a position switch, but said it would give the team added flexibility if he could fill in back there in a pinch.

“If Sergei can play defense, I wanted him to get some sort of idea what it was like the way we play. Nothing more than that,” Boudreau said. “I was trying to think a little bit outside the box.”

Fedorov has won the Selke Trophy as the League’s top defensive forward twice, but actually filling the role of a defenseman is something new.

“You have a few extra seconds. I'm not used to that, because playing forward is much quicker,” Fedorov said. “On the D, you've got to be a little more patient with the puck, which is all right. I mean, I like to have the puck on my stick.”

Two young Ducks still afloat – The Anaheim Ducks made seven more cuts to their preseason roster on Thursday. Andrew Ebbett and Brett Festerling, two youngsters fighting to stick around, were not among them.

Ebbett, a 25-year-old center, racked up 137 points the past two seasons in the American Hockey League for Binghamton and Portland. Festerling, a 22-year-old defenseman, is poised to add depth to the Anaheim blue line after Mathieu Schneider was traded last week to free salary cap space to re-sign forward Teemu Selanne.

“Did I think I would be a week away from opening day at the age of 22? Probably not,” Festerling said, “but then again, it’s not opening day yet. I can’t take anything for granted. I’m very excited, but I’m trying not to get too excited.”

Festerling originally came to Ducks camp three seasons ago as an undrafted free agent trying to earn a pro contract. Ebbett also went undrafted out of the University of Michigan, but has impressed the Anaheim coaching staff with his offensive instincts and play in the neutral zone.

“I’m working hard, trying to play smart, not make mistakes and just play a simple game,” Ebbett said. “That’s all I’ve been doing since I’ve been here.”
Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.

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