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by Brian Wheeler / Buffalo Sabres
Tim Connolly (photo: Brian Wheeler)
The bad news for the Buffalo Sabres is that Ales Kotalik became the latest player to be hobbled during the preseason. 

The good news?  Kotalik may now be in a minority that was a majority only a few days ago.

Audio:  Lindy Ruff discusses injuries (9/27) 
Video:  Lindy Ruff Post-Practice (9/27) 
Statistics: Sabres Preseason Totals (PDF)

Speedster Maxim Afinogenov and defenseman Dmitri Kalinin each returned to action on Thursday morning, while centers Paul Gaustad and Tim Connolly could return by the weekend. 

That's good news for a team that was forced to dress four rookies and only one defensive backup last night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Connolly will be treated with the most finesse. 

Having only appeared in a handful of games last season and with pressure mounting to fill the void left by the departure of last season's co-captains, his longevity during the regular season is the Sabres top priority.

"The most important part before he plays is getting him healthy," said Ruff.  "We're not going to stick him in a game just to get a game in.  We have another week to get ready for the season. 

"Unless he feels really good, my feeling is that we're not going to put him in the game."

Connolly could make the Sabres lineup for their final exhibition game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night (7 p.m., Buy Tickets).   Physically, he could be ready.  But the team isn't going to take any unnecessary risks with one of their top centers before the regular season begins.

"Chances are he'll be ready [for Saturday]," said Ruff.  ""But again, personally, I'm not going to take any chances."

Kotalik is at the other end of the spectrum.

Skating in a full-ice, three-on-three drill, the winger came up hobbling in the corner.   He left practice but wasn't favoring his leg as he left the locker room.

"Al looks like he tweaked his knee a little bit," said head coach Lindy Ruff following practice," so we'll see what that looks like."

Mike Ryan (bruised foot) and Andrew Peters (undisclosed injury) were also held out of practice.
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