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by Brian Wheeler / Buffalo Sabres
Center Tim Connolly
The Sabres preseason calendar opens this Friday when Buffalo squares off with the Columbus Blue Jackets in HSBC Arena, and already the top four lines are starting to take form.

Head coach Lindy Ruff gave a little bit of insight into the possible line combinations for the 2007-08 season on Tuesday following practice.

Mission number one on everyone's checklist:  fill the gaps.

Photo: Scrimmage

With the departure of centers Chris Drury and Daniel Briere via free agentcy, the four combinations that Ruff sends into combat will look drastically different in comparison to a year ago.

The faces haven't changed but pieces will be rearranged as the team looks to generate the kind of chemistry that has become a staple of Sabres hockey.

"I have a lot of confidence that the players stepping in are going to fill those voids," said Ruff.  "We're still going to be a very good team.

"Offensively, we do have a lot of talent.  There is a lot of talent on a lot of different lines."

Gifted offensive players Drew Stafford and Tim Connolly will act as the major replacements for the co-captains on the ice.

In 41 games during his rookie season, Stafford scored 13 goals and tallied 27 points.  Connolly, sidelined with post-concussion symptoms until just before the post-season, scored a goal in two regular season games but notched nine assists in 16 playoff appearances.

When asked about the line combinations Ruff was quite forthright in his response, stating that one line will remain intact for at least the near future: Derek Roy; Maxim Afinogenov; and Thomas Vanek.

After that, things get a little murkier.

"Tim Connolly has always played well with whoever we've put him with in camp, but there's always been a connection with him and Al [Kotalik]," said Ruff.  "If Tim can find Al, it's a weapon that I think can be very dangerous."

Jason Pominville could be slotted on the opposite side of Connolly to add both stability in Buffalo's zone and another weapon for the always shifty Connolly to find.

"That would leave us with [Paul] Gaustad, [Drew] Stafford and [Jochen] Hecht," said Ruff," which has great size and great offensive capabilities too."

Andrew Peters, Adam Mair, Daniel Paille and Mike Ryan would then battle for the final three slots.

"We've got penalty killers there and we've got good energy guys," said Ruff of the four-way competition for the last few spots.

One thing is for certain, the lineup is far from solidified at this point.

"The scrimmages have all been high scoring," said Ruff.  "I said today I don't know whether it's bad goaltending or good offense."
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