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Sabres miffed at Kasparaitis


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http://www.buffalonews.com/editorial/20060126/1066695.asp

Sabres' emotions front and center

By JOHN VOGL

News Sports Reporter

1/26/2006

There's no hiding the anger. The Buffalo Sabres are still furious with Darius Kasparaitis, for both his hit that put Tim Connolly on injured reserve and his resulting "half-dead fish" performance (more on that in a moment).

But they won't see Kasparaitis and the New York Rangers for two months - around the time Connolly is expected back from his knee injury - so retribution will have to wait. The more pressing concerns are tonight's rivalry game in Toronto and who will replace the team's co-leading scorer and one of its dwindling veteran centers.

"We'll have to elevate somebody," coach Lindy Ruff said after practice Wednesday in the Amherst Pepsi Center. "I told the team today, "We're a team that hasn't had any excuses all year, and there's no use making any right now.' "

Jochen Hecht becomes the latest Sabre to absorb an increased role because of injury. The erstwhile left winger will move to center, manning a line with Ales Kotalik and Jason Pominville. Hecht started his career in the middle with the St. Louis Blues, but he's been almost exclusively a winger the past three seasons in Buffalo.

"I'm looking forward to it," the 28-year-old Hecht said. "It's a different position to play, it's a different game, but maybe I'll get something going this way and help out the team a little more."

Hecht was the Sabres' top two-way forward last season, so Ruff has no concerns changing his role. The biggest differences between wings and centers include defense and skating. The center is closer to the net and covers both boards in his defensive zone, while wingers watch one side and a defenseman at the blue line.

"There's going to be a lot more skating involved, a lot more defensive play, but somebody has to fill that spot," Hecht said.

"The one thing that's evident is that when some players got elevated in bigger roles, they've played even better," Ruff said. "I still think there's players that have more to offer in a bigger role. They're always looking for a bigger role, and now they get their opportunity."

The Sabres decided not to recall anyone to replace Connolly, who will miss six to eight weeks with a sprain of his left medial collateral ligament. They could have summoned Jiri Novotny from Rochester, but that would have given them a youth-filled group of centermen with co-captain Chris Drury sharing the duties with two rookies (Novotny and Paul Gaustad) and second-year man Derek Roy.

Moving Hecht to center allows them to better utilize their depth at the wing.

"We've had our bulk of centermen playing the wing," Ruff said, referring to Gaustad, Roy and injured Daniel Briere. "Now with the centermen down, our wingers are going into the middle."

Added General Manager Darcy Regier: "The forward positions aren't as classical as they once were. They're a lot more interchangeable than they have ever been in the past."

The biggest change, obviously, is faceoff ability, and it's been a key for the Sabres. They are 17-4-1 when they win more faceoffs, 11-11-2 when they lose and 2-0 when it's tied.

The hit that caused the position shifting - Kasparaitis' low check on Connolly along the boards Tuesday in a 2-1 Sabres victory - was deemed legal by Regier. But he, like his team, didn't like it.

"I would be supportive of taking those hits out of the game," said Regier, who added discussions about the legality of hip checks have been held at GM meetings. "That isn't even a hip check. You're catching him with your rear end, and it's low enough, especially with someone like Kasparaitis, it's low enough to be in the knee area."

Kasparaitis, who's been called a dirty player almost from the time he arrived in the NHL in 1992, was called that and more Wednesday. In addition to the hit, the Sabres didn't like the way Kasparaitis avoided confrontation when Drury and Mike Grier tried to avenge the blast.

"When challenged, he was flopping around like a half-dead fish," Ruff said.

Drury, who jumped Kasparaitis immediately after the hit, compared the Rangers defenseman to a 9-year-old when asked to assess the reaction.

"When I see a 240-pound guy diving around like a squirt after taking one of our guys' knees out? I don't feel too good. I kind of feel embarrassed for him, actually," Drury said.

Buffalo faces a Maple Leafs squad tonight that is winless in its last six games. The Sabres will be playing their penultimate game of a six-game road trip, and they're 2-2 so far. Ruff said Wednesday he wants to finish 4-2.

Winger J.P. Dumont responded well to his first game back from sports hernia surgery and will play his second straight game tonight. Ruff said left wing Taylor Pyatt (broken wrist) could return Tuesday when the Sabres conclude their journey in Atlanta.

They'll need the help as Drury was quick to point out things will become tougher without Connolly.

"I know Lindy said somebody's got to step up, and I agree with that," Drury said, "but still it's a fact that we lost one of our best players, and it's going to hurt us."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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And here I thought they were only good at hoops. #-o

You've been AWOL with the hockey stories today, so I thought I lend a hand.

Muah. Thanks, T-Mac. Gotta keep MY forum going strong!

After the F'ers lost to the Habs last night, I have nothin' to say. Yeah, my peeps are very big into the hoops. As for Kasper, he's a cheap shot artist. Not one of my favorite players...even if he is one of my people.

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I think DK is the cheapest player in the league, and pretty worthless for being an assistant captain.

However, as a Sabres fan, I think the hit he gave Connolly was totally clean. I know players do like hip checks, but their legal, and there wasnt even a penalty on the play. It was just misforunate. Oh well, we won the season series with the Rangers, so we hold the tie breaker there, and we owned the Leafs toniht too!

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I think DK is the cheapest player in the league, and pretty worthless for being an assistant captain.

However, as a Sabres fan, I think the hit he gave Connolly was totally clean. I know players do like hip checks, but their legal, and there wasnt even a penalty on the play. It was just misforunate. Oh well, we won the season series with the Rangers, so we hold the tie breaker there, and we owned the Leafs toniht too!

Clean? I don't know, Willis! I've watched the hit over and over again and Kasper went LOW at the knees. I'm not saying that it was dirtiest hit I've ever seen, but going THAT low was unnecessary. But that's what Kasper is known for doing.

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