by Brian Wheeler
The Buffalo Sabres skated with almost four full lines for the first time in nearly two weeks on Monday afternoon. Returning to action on Wednesday night against an Atlanta team that is attempting to claw its way into playoff position, Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff is looking regain his team's winning form as quickly as possible.
"Today's practice was real sharp," said Ruff. "Trying to practice with less than three lines that can go full bore makes it tough on your team."
Maxim Afinogenov, Ales Kotalik, Toni Lydman and Teppo Numminen are yet to return from Turino, Italy.
The team is hopeful that Afinogenov and Kotalik will arrive on Tuesday, while Numminen and Lydman, members of the Finnish nation team that won the Silver Medal on Sunday, may not be back in uniform until Wednesday.
"I don't know what to expect quite frankly," said Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff when asked about the two Finnish defensemen. "They had a great Olympics but obviously some disappointment with not winning the Gold. We'll get them back and try to get them going."
Despite being away from the Sabres for two weeks, Ruff says the decision concerning two of the team's strongest defensemen should be an easy one.
"We don't have a lot of options otherwise," said Ruff. "There's no hesitation in playing them."
The Olympic Tournament can be mentally and physically draining for any player, but especially so for the medalists. Teams vying for the Olympic hardware have to play eight games over 11 days.
"It was a crazy schedule," said Sabres co-captain Chris Drury, who was a member of Team USA. "For the guys that went the medal rounds, it was even crazier."
Buffalo's lineup did receive some good news on Monday. Jochen Hecht
was cleared for full practice for the first time since suffering an MCL Sprain in Buffalo's 3-2 overtime loss to Montreal on February 9 and could play on Wednesday.
Neither Tim Connolly nor Dmitri Kalinin was cleared for full practice on Monday. Both are still experiencing mild soreness in their injured limbs.
Connolly, who has missed eight games due to a sprained knee suffered against the New York Rangers on January 24, is expected to visit the team's doctor on Wednesday to be reevaluated.
Kalinin is listed as day-to-day with a partially separated shoulder.