Paul Gaustad is accustomed to tailoring his game to accommodate the wishes of the Buffalo Sabres coaching staff. At the beginning of last season, Gaustad was charged with learning the fine art of taking faceoffs. He relished the added responsibility and has developed into the Sabres most dependable man on the draw behind faceoff-wizard Chris Drury.
Gaustad must now step completely out of his element and learn to play a position that he hasn't skated in eight or nine years. The Sabres imposing center, whose motor never stops, has been moved to wing alongside Drury and sniper Ales Kotalik.
Playing a few sporadic shifts at left wing during games and practice was the extent of Gaustad's exposure to the position prior to Buffalo's 3-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night. He saw more than 17 minutes of ice time that game and finished with an even plus/minus rating, even though he was often skating against the Senators top line of Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley and Chris Kelly.
"I was a little nervous moving from center to left wing," said Gaustad of his position switch. "It's a different adjustment but I just tried to read off [Drury] as much as possible. I just tried to make up for my mistakes with hard work."
Playing the wing entails a completely different set of offensive and defensive responsibilities. Arguably the biggest adjustment will come when handling the puck in relation to the other players on the ice.
"Usually at center when I get the puck, I know where I'm going with it," Gaustad said. "At wing, it's a little bit different. I know what to do, the thought process is just a little bit slower at wing."
Despite his inexperience, head coach Lindy Ruff was pleased with Gaustad's performance.
"I thought they played well," said Ruff. "Paul created some opportunities, and for the most part, I liked what I saw out of that line.
"[Players] pretty much know from watching video where they should be in our defensive zone. I think [Gaustad] has a good handle on it and didn't look lost at all during the game."
Like Mike Grier last season, Ruff is hoping that Gaustad's bruising style of play will mesh well with the scrappy Drury.
Jiri Novotny, who had been skating on the Sabres second line for the majority of the season, exchanged places with Gaustad, centering Adam Mair and Andrew Peters against Ottawa.
"Maybe Paul and Chris can become those two guys on a line that can kind of get some chemistry," said Ruff. "Often times, it's two guys on a line and there is one guy that is interchangeable."
TALLINDER WATCH Henrik Tallinder was welcomed back to practice with a warm salutation on Monday morning. The injured defenseman participated in a full skate for the first time since breaking a bone in his forearm against the New York Islanders on October 26.
"I'm a little bit rusty but it felt pretty good," said Tallinder. "It's been frustrating to skate without a stick for six weeks and some days it's been a struggle."
"We'll determine [Tallinder's return date] on how his practices go and how he feels," said Ruff. "We'll look at the physical activity and whether he gets sore at all. We're going to take it day by day, but obviously, it won't be the next couple of games. There is a possibility for right after Christmas."