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Beyond The Boards: May 8

by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres

Beyond the Boards is written by the Buffalo Sabres Web Content Coordinator, Brian Wheeler. Joining the Sabres prior to the 2003-04 season, Wheeler is the main contact and content editor for He has worked in the NHL, NFL, AHL and NLL over the past 10 years.
5.8.07, 14:39:04 :::: HECHT LEAVES PRACTICE EARLY

Jochen Hecht left practice early today for precautionary reasons. Hecht has been bothered by a tight groin and head coach Lindy Ruff didn't want to take any chances with Game One two days away.

"The ice was getting pretty bad," said Ruff. "On good ice, it's one thing. On bad ice, it's even worse."

Hecht should be fine for Thursday.


It was a very light day today on Day One of the hype for the ECF. Just one press conference, Lindy Ruff. All players had the day off.

"Today is just total rest," said Ruff. "Enjoy yesterday. Go for a walk, go outside or spend your day at home. Enjoy it because it was hard work."

More hard work is in Buffalo's future.

This series is going to be interesting. Lindy said it; this match-up really is a meeting of the two top teams in the East and a heated rivalry at that.

According to a few of the media, a few Ottawa players have already said that they feel Buffalo is the biggest adversary. I was a little shocked by that. Just assumed they would pick Toronto or Montreal.

One thing is for certain, neither team will need any additional motivation in this series. Besides the simple fact that a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals is on the line, you've got more twists to this series than any other. Some examples: Pominville's shorthanded, overtime game winner last year; Peter Schaefer's hit on Connolly; Chris Neil blindsiding Drury; or "the incident."

"There's lots of history," said Ruff. "Whether that has any effect on it... I can't tell you that right now. They've got all the motivation they need and we've got lots of motivation."

Buffalo was 3-5 (shootout win on Feb. 22) against Ottawa this season, but the Sabres did take two of the final three meetings. My biggest area of concern is once again the penalty kill. Not so much what we do, but what Ottawa has done against us, scoring on 30.0 percent of their chances during the regular season.

We're going to need our killers doing everything they can.


Think you're wasting your time making signs, think again. Lindy mentioned today that the team will often use pictures or video of sign-holders as motivation for the team.

"You use that and you use that sometimes when you're doing your video clips," said Ruff. "It's something that helps motivate the players."

5.4.07, 6:41 p.m. :::: LINES FOR TONIGHT'S GAME

Off the three-on-two drill, here are Buffalo's lines for Game Five. Drew Stafford and Daniel Paille are scratched, Paul Gaustad and Max Afinogenov are in. Jason Pominville will be skating on a line with Gaustad and Adam Mair.

Ales Kotalik -- Tim Connolly -- Daniel Briere
Dainius Zubrus -- Chris Drury -- Jochen Hecht
Maxim Afinogenov -- Derek Roy -- Thomas Vanek
Adam Mair -- Paul Gaustad -- Jason Pominville

5.4.07, 11:26 a.m. :::: THE GOOSE IS LOOSE

According to Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff, center Paul Gaustad has been cleared to play in tonight's game. After Ruff comments yesterday, you can expect the six-foot-five, 222-pounder to be in the lineup tonight.

"I don't think it would be a difficult decision," said Ruff on Thursday regarding Gaustad. "He's worked extremely hard and he's been a big part of this team.

"If he gets cleared to play and I don't put him in, I think he'll bust down my office door."

From this morning's press conference; Ruff talks about Gaustad's strength's as a player.

"His strength down low, and in and around the net, and his ability physically because of his size to garner some control on a few plays would be nice."


5.3.07, 1:51 p.m. :::: PLAYING UGLY, THE EQUATION

A lot has been made about Lindy Ruff's comments that the Sabres need to play "uglier." If you're wondering what playing "ugly" means, here's a simple equation.

Bad Angle Shots (aka low percentage scoring chances) + Crashing the Net = Playing Ugly

This equation also can be used for the phrases like "simplifying our game", "cleaning up the trash", or "more activity on the power play" (at least in a basic sense).

As Ruff said today in his morning press conference, "playing ugly" has nothing to do with eliminating creativity or limiting skilled players.


Tim Connolly had his standard day of rest from practice today. This has become the norm with the center since he returned at the end of the regular season.


The mood at practice was much lighter today. Lindy was pretty animated when talking to media and is taking a similar approach to Game Five as a coach of a squirt team might before a big game.

Today's message was for the team to have fun and enjoy the moment. I highly recommend watching the video of Ruff's press conference.

5.1.07, 12:29 p.m. :::: GAUSTAD COULD RETURN FRIDAY

After going through an intense physical workout yesterday for team doctors, Paul Gaustad has been cleared to play in Game Five at HSBC Arena on Friday, assuming he doesn't suffer any setbacks throughout the week.

Lindy Ruff said that if Gaustad is ready to go, it will be tough to keep him out of the lineup.


Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere says that Buffalo has to return to the way they shot in Game One against New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist.

To borrow a line from Rick Jeanneret, Lundqvist's ability to take away the lower half of the net forces shooters to go "top shelf where mama hides the cookies."

"He's very good with the lower part of the net," said Briere. "He covers everything really, really well. You look at some of the back door plays that we made a couple of times [in Game Three], he just takes them away. Even if it's a perfect pass or a perfect play back door, he covers the lower part and if you don't get [the puck] up, you're not going to score.

"He's really quick. His reflexes are some of the best in the league. But I think for us, we have to raise the puck, shoot it high, like we did in Game One."

4.30.07, 12:14 p.m. :::: ZUBRUS STILL HITTING

If you haven't noticed Dainius Zubrus during Buffalo's Eastern Conference Semifinals series with the New York Rangers, you may want to contact your cable provider or make an immediate appointment with your optometrist. Either your picture quality or eye sight needs to be checked.

Zubrus has been playing like a man possessed, leading the Sabres in hitting with 17 bone-crunchers during the playoffs. But what has surprised me is how consistently he's been using his six-foot-four, 226-pound frame in a punishing fashion without fear.

Look, anytime you see someone upend Jaromir Jagr in the neutral zone, you know you're watching a player who will do anything to win when it matters most. That's no small feat. Listed at six-foot-three, 245-pounds, Jagr is one mobile, large man.

Ask former Sabre Jay McKee, who suffered a concussion when trying to check Mario Lemieux. It's not easy to get a clean lick on a monster like that and skate away unscathed.

But Zubrus pulled it off and doesn't seem to be relenting.

Now I realize that some people may think Buffalo lost a little bit of their physical edge at the baggage claim in JFK airport. The Sabres got out hit by the Rangers, 48-27, for the first time in the series in Game Three.

But Zubrus again led Buffalo in physicality with five checks. In my opinion, the difference in hitting was an energized New York team that had to win on home ice or face a three-games-to-none deficit. They were desperate and had to put on a good show for their faithful.

It wouldn't shock me if Buffalo came out flying in Game Four. They take a lot of pride in being a good road team and take losing away from Buffalo pretty personally.

4.27.07, 3:38 p.m. :::: SECOND PERIOD SUCCESS

The Buffalo Sabres continue to see a great deal of success after 20 minutes of hockey. Leading the NHL in second period scoring in the regular season with 116 goals, Buffalo continued that trend into the playoffs. The Sabres 10 goals - 45 percent of their total scoring - in the middle frame are tops among all post-season teams.

Ottawa and New Jersey are second with nine apiece, while San Jose is third with eight. Nashville and Detroit have lit the goal lamp seven times.

Three of Buffalo's five scores in Game One against the Rangers came in the second.

Buffalo's 22 goals scored during the playoffs rank third in the league, behind the Senators and Devils (23 each).

4.27.07, 11:29 p.m. :::: STILL HEALTHY

All four players who were absent from practice yesterday - Brian Campbell, Tim Connolly, Toni Lydman and Drew Stafford - skated in the Sabres pre-game workout this morning at HSBC Arena. Head coach Lindy Ruff stated in his morning press conference that the entire group will be active tonight.

4.26.07, 3:48 p.m. :::: NIITTYMAKI KNOWS BEST

Flyers goaltender Antero Niittymaki may not have know his quote during last year's playoffs would have such staying power.

"Buffalo has four number two lines."

Lindy Ruff once again referenced those six words as an explanation for his team's depth of scoring.

But do you realize how far that statement really applies? This is were Lindy gets really smart.

There is no reference during practice, at all, to numbers when addressing the lines. When called on during drills each trio is always addressed by their center. Example: Chris Drury's line is "Drury's Line."

Doesn't sound like a big deal, right?

Well, let's say you're a rookie and skating on a line with Adam Mair and Tim Connolly. Suddenly, your not on the "fourth line" with it's negative connotation (one step from the bench).

You're on Connolly's Line, which is held to the same responsibilities and standards as Briere's, Drury's or Roy's lines.

There's an equality factor among players with this philosophy.

Sound familiar: One Team, One Goal.

Four players were excused from practice on Thursday. Tim Connolly was given the day off for rest, while Drew Stafford, Brian Campbell and Toni Lydman were nursing minor bumps and bruises. Ruff didn't expect any of the group to miss time.

4.23.07, 1:17 p.m. :::: CONNOLLY LEAVES PRACTICE EARLY

Center Tim Connolly left practice early for precautionary reasons. Connolly has been bothered by his hamstring and was excused for the Buffalo's conditioning exercises at the end of Monday's workout by head coach Lindy Ruff.

"At that time in practice, I went down and told him, 'Why don't you get off [the ice] and get it treated. Let's not aggravate it anymore'," said Ruff. "We got about 45 minutes in and didn't need him skating and I didn't need him skating in that last part."

Connolly was replaced by rookie Daniel Paille on Buffalo's fourth line with Adam Mair and Ales Kotalik.

The 25-year-old from Syracuse, N.Y. had three assists in the Sabres four-games-to-one, opening-round series victory over the New York Islanders.


The Sabres penalty kill is based on pressure. Buffalo looks first to force their opposition to dump the puck deep and then pursue the entry. In the zone, pressure is added to try and force the power play into quick puck movements and a scrambled setup.

These things aren't going to change anytime soon. Buffalo will still rely on its speed in both zones. Watch tonight [Game Four, MSG, WGR 550-AM, 7:30 p.m.] and you'll see exactly what we're talking about.


Lindy Ruff called Ales Kotalik one of his "hardest working forwards" in Game Three.

In 11:16 TOI, Kotalik recorded two shots on goal in the third period and a couple of hits. Ruff like the way Kotalik controlled the puck, his responsibility in Buffalo's zone and the chances that he created.

"I thought his shifts in the third period were phenomenal," said Ruff. "There wasn't anything that I was disappointed in in Al's game last night."

The Sabres depth has left Kotalik on the sidelines for much of Buffalo's power-play opportunities during the playoffs. The winger has seen just seven seconds of power-play time this series.

"He's in a tough spot right now where he's not involved in the special teams," said Ruff. "It take a little momentum out of a player, when you sit there and you've got penalty kill and power play, and you maybe get one shift in seven minutes.

"I don't think its' fair to evaluate Al on that basis. I'm evaulating him on what he didin [Game Three]. I was very happy with his play."


Chris Drury on Adam Mair's role and place on the Sabres lineup throughout the playoffs: "You need grit and you need intensity. He's pretty vocal in the room as well. He speaks and guys listen. He's a huge part of this team, and even if he doesn't score [in Game Three], he's been great for us all year. Obviously, it's great that he did score."

4.13.07, 3:06 p.m. :::: BRIERE ABSENT FROM PRACTICE

Daniel Briere was absent from practice today. Wait a minute before you start freaking out.

Breath in... Breath out.

Remember this is not the 2006 playoffs and a freak outbreak of the bubonic plague is not going to spread like wildfire through the locker room.

According to head coach Lindy Ruff, Briere is just nursing a minor injury after taking a shot in the leg. Ruff decided to give him a little time off to recoup.

Ruff said he was sure Briere would be available for Game Two.

4.12.07, 1:25 p.m. :::: STAFFORD WAITING FOR 8 P.M.

Drew Stafford sat in his locker this morning just soaking in the playoff experience. At 21 years old, Stafford is the youngest member of the Sabres lineup, but he's not stranger to the big-game spotlight. Just look at his body of work outside the NHL: World Juniors and a couple of Frozen Four appearances.

The biggest challenge facing any rookie in a game like tonight, or veteran for that matter, is not getting too caught up in the moment. As difficult as this sounds, you have to stay grounded, even when the arena roof is getting blown off by the fans.

Not an easy task at all.

"It's all relative," said Stafford of his past experience with pressure. "Obviously, this is at a little bit bigger scale, but I think with that experience will definitely help. Everyone here is pretty calm about it. It's not like everybody is running around screaming, so it's not too hard to keep an even keel.

"Especially for me. I just go out there, have fun, do my job and keep my mouth shut."

Stafford said his emotions are more excitement than nervousness for the first playoff game of his career.

"If you can't get excited for this, there's something wrong with you," laughed Stafford. "If there are any nerves at all, it's more me being anxious to get out there and play, instead of sitting around thinking about it all the time."

After his skates hit the ice, Stafford believes the Game One becomes just that, a another game no different than the past 41 he appeared in.

"That's how it always is, every game for me this year that I've been up here," Stafford said. "You don't ever want to come up here and get comfortable. Every time I've been up here that's all it was; get the first shift and the rest of the game will come through."

4.11.07, 10:13 a.m. :::: RICK DIPIETRO'S RETURN

Daniel Briere fielded the question yesterday that is burning in the minds of some Sabres fans; goaltender Rick DiPietro's possible return during the opening round of the playoffs.

"It doesn't change anything for us," said Briere. "We're facing a good goalie in DiPietro or a guy that has been hot lately.

"It's still the same goal and it's still the same thing. We're not going to change our style, we're not going to change anything, whoever it is."

In replacing New York's franchise netminder, Wade Dubielewicz has put togethor hot streak of late, winning his last four starts including a 3-2 shootout victory over New Jersey to secure a playoff berth.

The cover boy for New York's media guide, DiPietro has missed the Islanders' last seven games with a concussion, his second in a 12-day span. Varied reports have provided a cloudy picture as to when he could be game ready.

According to New York Newsday, DiPietro will need to be symptom free in practice and then pass a battery of neuro-psychological tests in order to put on an Islanders sweater. Read that story here.

Only time will tell who Buffalo will see fronting New York's cage.


It took a day for the question to be posed to Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff about shootouts deciding a playoff spot. Judging from the poll on the front page, a slight majority (55% to 45% in favor, as I'm writing this) of you guys think the shootout should be a deciding factor.

Here's what Lindy Ruff had to say...

Does it bother you that a playoff spot came down to a shootout?
Lindy Ruff: "No, not at all. The other teams could have done something about it before then. They knew that shootouts were going to be important during the year, it's a point here or a point there. It doesn't bother me. It's part of our game and it's that the fans really enjoy.

"I've never been a real big fan of the shootout, but I think that part of it is, the game needs that excitement and I think that it's something that the fans have embraced.

"It's something that I've warmed up to."

4.8.07, 6:32 p.m. :::: LET THE DEBATE BEGIN

One of the more controversial points concerning the shootout when it was instituted by the league following the lockout was what happens if a team made it into the playoffs and another was eliminated by a single shootout?

Would never happen, right?

Well that fear just became a reality. It took only two seasons for a team, the New York Islanders, to get their playoff berth through the staged event. And the Toronto Maple Leafs were the victim. Toronto was knocked out of contention when Wade Dubielewicz poke checked Sergei Brylin's backhander into safety.

Whether or not this is good for the game of hockey is totally up to perception. Personally, I'm in favor of it.

But one thing is an absolute certain. The shootout will be more scrutinized that ever before and will be a hot topic for media round tables and satellite discussions for weeks to come. You're only starting to hear about New York's miracle...

(Yep, this is how I spend my Easter Sunday: church; ham; hockey; and blogging. Sometimes I wonder how my wife got so lucky.)

4.5.07, 6:38 p.m. :::: A NICE OVATION FOR AFINOGENOV

A half an hour before the game even starts and the anticipation is rising for Afinogenov's return. As the Sabres walked from the locker room to the ice for their pre-game skate, as always, the jumbotron crew filmed their emergence from the room.

Afinogenov was last in line and an ovation gained life in the 300 level as the camera panned across the back of #61.

When Max hit the ice, the smattering of early birds around the arena gave him a nice welcome back.

That's why you have to love Buffalo fans. They pay attention to the details.

4.5.07, 11:33 a.m. :::: MAX IS BACK

Following the Sabres pre-game skate this morning Max Afinogenov talked with the media. He's excited to be returning to the lineup against the Bruins tonight. This will be his first game action after missing 21 games with a broken wrist suffering on Feb. 17.

Lindy Ruff joked a little about Afinogenov's role in the contest.

"I'm going to play him at forward and at right wing," said Ruff. "I want him to play well defensively and I want him to play well offensively."

Few specifics were given. Asked if Afinogenov would see time on the power play, Ruff said it was a possibility, but that it might be hard to work the winger in with the way other players have been preforming of late.

"A guy like [Stafford] would have to come off the power play," said Ruff. "But he's been pretty good in that unit, so it makes it a tough decision."

4.3.07, 2:30 p.m. :::: THE RIGHT FRAME OF MIND

Think back to when the Buffalo Sabres were missing eight players from its starting lineup. Fast forward to today and you'll notice that just one from that list isn't practicing with the team.

Paul Gaustad.

Being the only player on the Sabres sidelines doesn't seem to be sitting too well with Buffalo's largest center.

Although the ankle injury he suffered on Feb. 10 was listed as season ending, Gaustad will not and has not taken the diagnosis lying down.

The 25 year old is working hard in the trainer's room because "he would like to make the last trip of the year," according to head coach Lindy Ruff.

"It's the only way to approach it," said Ruff of Gaustad's never-say-die outlook. "You've got to have belief that you can heal above the normal. He's around and a part of all our meetings, and he really feels that process can be sped up and that there is a shot that he could get himself ready to play."

4.3.07, 11:40 a.m. :::: LINES ONCE HEALTHY

So some people have been asking what I thought the lines would be once both Max Afinogenov and Tim Connolly are healthy enough to play.

The duo skated with Clarke MacArthur in practice on Monday, so you can't really tell by going with lines. That was more of the injury/illness line.

I'm prefacing my lines with a couple of statements that Lindy Ruff has said in the past: 1) he likes rolling four solid lines, 2) Connolly will most likely not be used in a regular role, and 3) he wants to create some stability in the lineup.

Now Lindy said 3) in regards to the defense and where Nathan Paetsch fits in with seven defensemen, but I believe that could also be applied to the front lines as well.

If you look at the lines from yesterday...

Hecht -- Briere -- Pominville
Kotalik -- Drury -- Zubrus
Vanek -- Roy -- Stafford
Paille -- Mair -- Peters
MacArthur -- Connolly -- Afinogenov

The top line will remain the same. There is no reason to change a good thing.

The second line will also remain if Kotalik and Zubrus can find chemistry, which looks to have some good potential right now.

The third line will go back to what it was before Afingoenov's injury. Although Stafford has played very well, the line of Vanek -- Roy -- Afinogenov were our top line for the majority of the season. They were so dangerous offensively that teams rarely scored on them even strength.

By looking at last season's stats from the playoffs, the fourth line is Paille/Mair -- Connolly -- Stafford. Peters didn't dress at all during the post-season and Mair was active for just three games. That makes me think that Paille will get the start.

Hecht -- Briere -- Pominville
Kotalik -- Drury -- Zubrus
Vanek -- Roy -- Afinogenov
Paille -- Connolly -- Stafford

Now I know that Lindy had said that the lines wouldn't be changed and that Max could skate on the fourth line - leaving Stafford with Roy and Vanek - but I feel that statement was blown up once Kotalik immediately went on a line with Drury and Zubrus.

So that's it... If you disagree, agree or have something else to say, feel free to email me...

3.30.07, 11:43 a.m. :::: LYDMAN IN AND SO IS PAETSCH

He's back. Toni Lydman is available for tonight and the smart money is on him playing. So will Nathan Paetsch, which makes things much more interesting.

Lindy Ruff said yesterday that Paetsch would be the odd-man out with seven healthy defensemen.

Although seven healthy bodies does give Buffalo some options, Ruff isn't going to sacrifice four complete lines up front to dress an extra set of legs on the blueline. He has already stated that he wants the pairings to be "solidified," so rotating is pretty much ruled out.

Paetsch will be a game-by-game decision. Some nights he'll play, others he won't.

My guess, with Clarke MacArthur missing two days due to illness, Paetsch will see time on the fourth line tonight against the Islanders.

3.29.07, 3:29 p.m. :::: LYDMAN ALERT

Toni Lydman could return to action as early as Friday night. Head coach Lindy Ruff stated on Thursday that it was hopeful that the blueliner would be in the lineup when Buffalo faces the New York Islanders.

Today was the annual picture day at the arena. The team photo was taken (twice in fact, once in the new jerseys and once with the third jersey) around 10:00 a.m., while the expanded picture, with all the Sabres' employees and players, followed.

For longer than I've been around, the complete organization photo has been a ritual. It's pretty tough to fit that many people into one frame, but when all is said and done, it's a nice way of remembering everyone you've worked with.

3.28.07, 11:33 p.m. :::: KOTALIK AND PAILLE IN THE GAME

Sniper Ales Kotalik and rookie Daniel Paille will both be returning to the Sabres lineup tonight per Lindy Ruff's morning PC.

Kotalik returns after missing 16 games with a knee injury and will skate with Chris Drury and Dainius Zubrus. It will be interesting to see if the 28-year-old right winger's production increases when he comes back. Zubrus has often joked about feeding Alex Ovechkin the puck a lot when he was in Washington because of the sophomore's shoot-first menta
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