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by Erin Pollina / Buffalo Sabres
Nathan Gerbe (Photo: Getty Images)
Nathan Gerbe wasn’t happy with his performance.

After being held scoreless in his first NHL stint for the Buffalo Sabres in December, the 5-foot-6 forward thought he could have done more to stay in the League.

Head Coach Lindy Ruff believes that he’s right.

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“If you leave happy with the way you played, you probably shouldn’t have left,” Ruff said. “I think you should leave knowing what he knows – that it wasn’t quite good enough, that I could have played better, that I could have produced.”

Gerbe had one assist during a six-game stretch before being reassigned to the Portland Pirates. Since returning to the Sabres’ AHL affiliate, Gerbe has responded with six goals and 13 points through 11 games.

“I think he’s always had that chip, he carries that with him,” Ruff said. “He’s a very determined young man, you see that in his play… he brings a little bit of bite. He’s got that attitude that he doesn’t want anything to stand in his way.”

That was evident Tuesday night at HSBC Arena as the rink played host to an AHL game featuring the Pirates and Albany River Rats. Gerbe added his 20th goal of the season less than four minutes into the contest and was at the center of a controversial brawl that concluded with 74 penalty minutes and Gerbe’s ejection after being jumped by Albany’s Tim Conboy.

“I never got an explanation of why I was tossed… I’m not sure,” Gerbe said. “But that’s part of my game. I’m an agitator and I like to get teams fired up. Sometimes tempers flare like that and things happen.

“I can’t back down one bit. I’m going to take a lot of hits and I’ll also be giving a lot of hits and getting under people’s skin, so things are going to change for me.”

That excludes, he hopes, his numbers in the NHL.

“The first time I was called up I thought offensively I didn’t do what I wanted,” Gerbe said. “This time I’m going to try more things and try to be more of a threat offensively.

“It opens your eyes and tells you where you have to be to [stay] here. It’s definitely a good thing. The first experience helped out a lot. I’m not going to say that I wasn’t disappointed in myself performance-wise, but it’s good to take something out of it and get ready for the next one.”

Ruff is looking for Gerbe to provide some offense with the absence of the Sabres’ leading scorer in Thomas Vanek [jaw]. Gerbe is even expected to see some time on the power play.

“You don’t take 32 goals and replace it easily but I think you try to replace it with offense,” Ruff said. “Obviously we are looking for Nathan to provide some creativity and some goal scoring which he has – [averaging] over a point per game in the American League [37 points (20+17) in 32 games]– which is a pretty good pace.

“The NHL is a different ball game. The pace is quicker, the attention to detail is a lot greater, the players are stronger… in his case I think he did learn a lot… I think he got a good taste of it. The second time around will be interesting to see what he’s done with it.”

Andrej Sekera will remain out of the lineup for tonight’s match-up against the Ottawa Senators. Ruff is concerned that the defenseman’s ankle is not strong enough.

“He’s close,” Ruff said. “If this was playoffs you would probably throw him in there and say let’s go at it, but I don’t think we need to lose a player that’s not quite there yet.”

Sekera has missed the last 11 games.

Henrik Tallinder [shoulder] and Maxim Afinogenov [groin] both participated in the team’s optional morning skate Wednesday.

Ruff said Tallinder is getting better but is not able to practice in a full-contact basis yet.

Afinogenov has been skating with the coaches prior to practice and Ruff anticipates the winger will return to practice with the team in a few days.

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