Maxim Afinogenov will be in the Buffalo Sabres starting lineup this Friday in Game Five of the team's best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series against the New York Rangers.
Unsatisfied by the dynamic winger's performance during the post-season, head coach Lindy Ruff put Afinogenov on the sidelines for Buffalo's 2-1 loss in Game 4 in an effort to jump start his play.
Meeting with Afinogenov on Wednesday morning, Ruff explained his expectations and even showed video clips to cement his points.
"I like Max; I just really feel he's struggling and maybe a game off would be good," said Ruff. "There are areas where he needs to be better. There are areas, at the same time, that if he is, he'll help us win the game."
Averaging more than a point a game during the regular season, Afinogenov has scored in just three of eight games in which he has appeared in the playoffs. Afinogenov registered assists in Games Two and Three, and the game winner and an assist in Game Five, against the Islanders.
He is yet to record a point in Buffalo's current series against the Rangers.
In 56 regular season contests, Afinogenov scored 23 goals and recorded 61 points, while boasting a plus-19 rating.
"We've had several meetings down the stretch and there's been lots of talk of where I need to get his game to," said Ruff. "That's not an easy place."
Ruff wants Afinogenov to return to his unpredictable style that puts fear into the hearts of defenders. Shooting, setting up teammates and blocking shots, the things the winger does best when he's on his game.
"I went back to his first game back from injury," said Ruff. "That was an absolutely fabulous game. I showed him all the clips from that game today."
Despite his obvious disappointment in his spectator status on Sunday, Afinogenov is ready for Friday night.
"I feel great and nothing has changed with me," said Afinogenov. "I have confidence and I'm ready to go.
"There's nothing I can do. If I'm out, then I'm out. I just can ride the bike and prepare myself for the next game."