Sometimes, pain can be a good thing.
It can build character, push limits and, in the Buffalo Sabres’ case, can lead to winning hockey games.
“Like I told them last night, it is painful,” Lindy Ruff said. “You are going to feel pain. But sometimes that pain will lead to a little bit further game. We made a big step [Monday night against the Canadiens].”
The pain Ruff is referring to is not completely physical. Rather, it is growing pains the team is experiencing lately.
With injuries plaguing the Sabres - including Tim Connolly, Dmitri Kalinin, Adam Mair and Jaroslav Spacek - Buffalo has to again forge their identity.
As Ruff explained, it will take discipline.
“We learned a pretty big lesson against Florida,” Ruff said regarding Buffalo’s 4-2 loss to the Panthers Friday. “You take that lesson and move forward. We went through a lot of that defensive zone stuff that we messed up on and I think you give these guys credit. They listened.”
That was evident Monday night in Montreal when the Sabres faced the Canadiens. Although it did not translate on the score sheet, losing 2-0, Buffalo played one of its more complete games of the season in attempt to shut down the Habs.
Instead of the confusion that Ruff described following Florida, the team displayed cohesion, only to be foiled by a hot goaltender in Cristobal Huet.
However, it is hard to argue that the effort was lacking.
“We were a lot more responsible in a lot of areas and we looked like a team that was committed to playing in every area of the ice,” Ruff said.
The task that now lies ahead for Buffalo is converting that effort into wins. A busy schedule in the month ahead, including eight consecutive games against divisional opponents, will prove to be a good challenge.
Ruff believes the key is in finding a balance.
That includes balancing offensive power on the lines, pairing rookie blueliners with veteran counterparts, and most importantly, keeping the balance between playing simple and making good plays.
In Montreal, Ruff attempted to do just that, bumping a struggling Drew Stafford
to the line of Derek Roy
and Thomas Vanek
Maxim Afinogenov, who usually plays on that line, skated with Ales Kotalik and Paul Gaustad.
“We are trying to strike a balance on all our lines. I thought again last night we struck a better balance,” Ruff said. “The Roy Vanek and Stafford [line] was in on four good scoring chances. Gaustad and Max were in on a couple, and defensively, we were pretty solid.”
Young blueliners Mike Weber
and Andrej Sekera
can take some credit for the defense’s success, filling in for Spacek and Kalinin.
But overall, Ruff pointed out one fact that will ultimately determine how many points this team can take, even if the defense plays outstanding.
"We need some guys to come through for us up front,” Ruff said. “I don’t think we can blame it on injuries."
It just means the Sabres are going to have to work harder. In other words, no pain no gain.