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by Kevin Snow / Buffalo Sabres

At this time last year, Drew Stafford had nine goals in 20 games, his playing time limited due to a pair of injuries that kept him out of a combined 15 games. This season he has only scored six times in 32 games, and his frustration level has gone from a simmer to a slow boil. It was never more evident than last night in Ottawa when he passed to Derek Roy during a two-on-one, instead of taking the wide open shot from the slot.

Lindy Ruff knows what Stafford is capable of, and shared his thoughts with the snake-bitten sniper during a 15-minute on-ice chat at the end of today’s practice at the Air Canada Centre.

“He said to me ‘I don’t know why I didn’t shoot it,’” Ruff said afterwards. “He lacks some confidence when it comes to scoring, and he’s passed up some good opportunities. His frustration level is pretty high. I said ‘those are situations you wouldn’t normally pass up; you know you’re a shooter.’ I think when things go well, it’s automatic. When things aren’t going well, you second-guess yourself.”

Stafford knows exactly what it feels like when things are going well. After his slow start last season, he exploded for 22 goals in the final 42 games, including a four-game run that saw him light the lamp eight times on just 13 shots. Plays like the one he made last night are the things he’d like to eliminate from his game right now.

“I’m kind of searching for some goals here, and it’s one of the plays that you’d like to have back,” he explained. “I can’t do anything about it now, but next time I’d like to put it in the back of the net.

“It’s one of those things where I thought I could maybe make a little pass to Derek, instead of just going straight down, driving and finding a hole to put it in. I can’t do anything about it now, but I’ll work to get in that position again and pull the trigger.”

Thomas Vanek and Paul Szczechura were given today off to rest their bumps and bruises, but Ruff expects both to be ready for Thursday’s game here against the Maple Leafs. Ruff also said Patrick Kaleta is a go for Thursday, but likely not Brad Boyes. In the case of Boyes, Ruff said “it’s a gamble” because he hasn’t had enough time to prepare himself with the down-low battle drills that will really put his injured ankle to the test. It seems more likely that Boyes will take the Christmas break to ready himself for Monday’s home game against Washington.

In other injury updates: Tyler Myers (wrist) is skating with the team but not in a full-contact role … Nathan Gerbe (concussion) has been skating on his own the last two days back in Buffalo … Tyler Ennis (ankle) is traveling with the team, but was kept off the ice again today as a precautionary measure … Corey Tropp (concussion) is still not feeling well, and hasn’t skated since being injured against Florida on December 9.
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