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by Erin Pollina / Buffalo Sabres
Nathan Paetsch (Photo: Getty Images)
With the departure of veteran blueliner Brian Campbell to San Jose at the trade deadline, concerns inevitably shifted to the Buffalo Sabres defense corp.

New tandems were formed as Dmitri Kalinin moved to play alongside Jaroslav Spacek- Campbell’s former partner- and Nathan Paetsch was back in the lineup alongside Nolan Pratt.

But after an 8-4 victory against the Nashville Predators last night at HSBC Arena, head coach Lindy Ruff reports, so far so good. 

“You have new pairs together and there is a little break-in period,” Ruff said.

“I was pleasantly surprised.”

Although allowing four goals in a game would not be described as ideal for any defense, Ruff maintained that the errors were not entirely the fault of his blueliners.

“Going through it again today, some of the problems were support problems from forwards,” he said. “Some of it was when a winger ended up down low versus a centerman and we got a little mixed up in our system.

“We had some breakdowns that weren’t even related to pairs so I actually felt better about it after I went through the game and looked at some of the D-zone situations that we got into. In the heat of the battle, you don’t see where the breakdown came from and there was a good majority that had nothing to do with the defense pairs. I was pleasantly surprised.”

In particular, Ruff was pleased with the amount of offense the Sabres’ back end provided.

The defense combined for a plus-12 rating in last night’s match-up and tallied six helpers, with four coming from Toni Lydman.

“Last night we created a lot of confusion by having a lot of our defenseman involved in the cycles, going to the net,” Ruff continued. “There was probably 10 plays we snuck in [in front of the net] whether it was Toni [Lydman], Talli [Henrik Tallinder], Dmitri [Kalinin], all those guys got involved. You’re going to see some breakdowns, you ‘re going to see the odd breakaway, you’re going to see the odd-numbered stuff, but it’s what we’ve been successful with.”

Ruff’s only criticism was a lack of communication in the defensive zone, which he believes will diminish as the tandems become more comfortable.

Drew Stafford and Max Afinogenov were both cleared to play and participated in practice Tuesday afternoon at HSBC Arena.

Stafford has been absent since Feb. 10 with an ankle injury missing nine games while Afinogenov has not played since the Winter Classic on Jan. 1, missing a total of 24 games.

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