March 22, 2007
by Glenn Odebralski
Hockey analysts predicted that once the Buffalo Sabres suffered multiple injuries, the team would ultimately falter. Even though the opposition has made up some ground on the Sabres in the points race, Buffalo's 101 point is still tops in the league and Eastern Conference with nine games left in the regular season. The team is currently seven points ahead of second place New Jersey.
The Sabres train has kept on its track thanks to Rochester call-ups such as Drew Stafford
, Clarke MacArthur, and Michael Ryan
. One question looms on the Sabres horizon. What to do once the lineup becomes healthy?
Should the line of Stafford, Derek Roy
and Thomas Vanek
be broken up once Max Afinogenov returns from the hand injury he suffered against Edmonton on Feb. 15? Where will Ales Kotalik and Tim Connolly fit in once active?
The coaching staff has been impressed with the Vanek-Roy-Stafford combination since they started playing together 15 games ago. As a trio, they have netted 20 goals and added 24 assists while posting a plus-25 rating in that span. The three have failed to record a point in only three games.
"That line has had great chemistry," said head coach Lindy Ruff. "I don't think that any individual can have success unless you have got some cohesiveness going with your line mates. Right now they seem to be on the same page. They're feeding off each other. They're moving the puck very well."
"My two linemates have been complimenting me pretty well," said Roy who has 16 points (7+9) since November 17. "[Thomas and Stafford are] smart on the ice and they move the puck. There's so much creativity with Thomas and Staf. They play great together. Nobody cares who scores, and everyone wants to go out and do their job. That's what we're doing now."
Add the stalwart line of Jochen Hecht
and Jason Pominville
centered by Daniel Briere, and the budding relationship between Chris Drury and Dainius Zubrus, there could be limited spaces for those who have been absent.
"You don't want to be breaking things up and trying to put new pieces in different places," said Ruff. "My thought right now is, we're not going to change a lot if things are going well the way they are going."
With that in mind, that means there could be a new line brewing for Buffalo.
"When you miss that amount of time," said Ruff. "And you're going to be coming back, and in Al's case, and Max's case, and hopefully in Tim Connolly's case, they may come back as a fourth line, all three of them."
Imagine having those three players as one line, the playmaking skills of Connolly, the sniping skills of Kotalik, along with the speed of Afinogenov playing on the fourth line. Opposing teams won't get a single shift off in any playoff game if Buffalo decides to make that happen, as the Sabres would be able to once again roll four complete lines.
Only time will tell whether this dream comes to fruition. One thing is for certain; Buffalo will wait to cross that bridge when they get to it.