Editor's Note: Hey folks, in the never-ending quest to bring more content to this blog, I'm going to start writing articles once or twice a week based around the interviews the Sabres players and coaches are giving. This is a bit new for me beyond Links posts and statistical analysis, so please feel free to leave comments on what you liked and didn't like in the thread to help me make these articles more worthy of your time.
The Sabres anemic offense looks to get a bit less offensive (to watch) and a bit more productive on Wednesday, as Drew Stafford and Tim Connolly are both expected to return to the lineup. Oh, and Rob Niedermayer is back too, but that doesn't really fit in with the whole offense thing.
To make room for them forward Luke Adam was sent back down to Portland, and Nathan Gerbe will likely be the healthy scratch tomorrow. No word as of this writing as to the fate of Mark Mancari.
Lindy Ruff was optimistic the veterans can provide a bit of offense to the team, even if it may take them a little while to get totally back up to speed. "Any time you're putting players back in you have a little apprehension because you have to be up to game speed," said Ruff after practice today. "In Stafford's case, we saw the impact he made on the offensive side of it and we hope to get that again." Stafford skated with Jochen Hecht and Jason Pominville today at practice.
Tim Connolly, who skated with Tyler Ennis and Pat Kaleta today, was a little apprehensive about returning at full speed as well. "The timing is always a little bit quicker in the game pace than in practice," Connolly said. When asked to be more specific he said, "The passing, being in the correct position. The game's just a lot faster. You can try to emulate it in practice but until you really get in the game it's not the same speed."
As for Rob Niedermayer, who skated with Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek at practice [Ed. note: Uh, what?] he's just happy to be back in the lineup at all. When asked about how the time off has helped his knee, Niedermayer quipped, "Waiting a little bit longer gave it a little more chance to heal and it feels good now."
Head after the break to hear what the coach and players had to say about Connolly and Niedermayer's slow starts.
Slow starts have been a problem this season for many players individually and the team as a whole. Ruff was realistic about the team's chances to climb back into a playoff position after such a slow start. "Obviously that's tough. We need to beat the teams that are around us. We talked about giving away points, and that was a heartbreaking point we gave away [to Boston.] You can't give too many of those away. You look at the last 10 [games] and that's 5-4-1 and that's not good enough."
"Our big players have to be our best players," Ruff continued. "When we look back and point to a stretch that we've had to get out of this, Ryan will be at the forefront. I think Thomas' game has come a long ways. We need more of that - we need 4 or 5 guys of that top caliber to step up. I think Pommer's game the last couple games is close to where we need it. "
As much as those players have looked better over the past few games, both Connolly and Niedermayer have fallen well below expectations thus far. Both players gave extremely generic answers when asked about it, but Connolly was especially terse with his response: "I'm just focused on tomorrow's game." When Lindy Ruff was asked about it, he was equally terse. "Average. Again, we need more," said the coach. When asked to elaborate on how Connolly could get to last year's form, Ruff replied "I don't want to stand here and talk about chances and missed opportunities, I want to talk about the plays that have turned into goals for us."
Rob Niedermayer summed up the situation pretty well by saying "We gotta concentrate. Every game is big for us. We can't look ahead. Not to use the old cliche but we gotta take it one game at a time. You can't look at it like, oh, we need ten points or six points or whatever. The team's been playing better lately, and we just gotta pick it up that much more. We can't talk about bounces. We've gotta get wins."
All quotes from the posted interviews at Sabres.com unless otherwise noted.