By Brian Wheeler
The Sabres entered the 2005-06 season as a team without a cut-and-dry identity. Buffalo created itself as just that - a team - rolling four lines and putting non-stop pressure on the opposition with its depth.
With 19 of 22 players currently on the roster having played at least 25 games with the team last season, head coach Lindy Ruff knows what to expect from this year's squad.
"We're trying to put together four lines that will give us depth again," said Ruff. "We know there were pieces that worked well together late in the year and into the playoffs."
Buffalo's top line will consist of a cannon shot and two versatile centers. Ales Kotalik will join the tandem of Derek Roy
and Chris Drury, who gelled during the Sabres playoff run.
Maxim Afinogenov will take JP Dumont's place, as Dumont departed for Nashville via free agency in the off-season, on a line with Daniel Briere and Jochen Hecht
The third line manifested itself during preseason with three players who matriculated through the Sabres farm system. Jiri Novotny, who led the Amerks in scoring last season with 54 points in 66 games, will center Thomas Vanek
and Jason Pominville
"I think those combinations give us three solid lines," said Ruff.
Energy and a little bit of offensive production will be the demands on the fourth line, which features Andrew Peters, Paul Gaustad and Adam Mair.
On the blueline the pairings will be a closer resemblance to those of last season, as Buffalo returns five of six starting defensemen.
Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder will continue to face the opposition's top line, while seasoned veteran Teppo Numminen has been partnered with Dmitri Kalinin. Brian Campbell and off-season acquisition Jaroslav Spacek are the Sabres only defensive pairing who hasn't played together before.