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Power play still having its ups and downs

The Buffalo Sabres' power play is starting to find a groove.

Then again, maybe it isn't.

Paul Gaustad banged home a rebound on the Sabres' first power-play opportunity in Monday afternoon's 3-1 triumph over the New York Islanders. So that was good.

The goal extended Buffalo's streak to four games with a power-play goal. So that was good, too.

Then the power-play unit had three chances in the second period. They registered a total of zero shots, bumbling their entries all the while and fumbling their passes all the while.

Not so good.

"We've had some good power plays. We've had some bad power plays," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "There's times when we've been really out of sync, and there's been times when we really passed it well.

"We've got to keep working at it. Tonight there was pockets of the game that were very sloppy, and pockets of the game that were very good."

After a miserable spell in which their power-play ranking plummeted from sixth in the NHL to 19th, the Sabres have converted six of their past 25 chances, including Gaustad's marker 8:06 into the game. They have scored eight power-play goals in their past nine games.

"Four games in a row certainly is a start," Sabres co-captain Chris Drury said. "It's probably not where we want it to be, but overall it's something we're continually working on. We're not going to give up on it. We're going to keep plugging away. Hopefully, good things will come."

The Sabres had stretches in which they scored three power-play goals in 43 attempts and five goals in 69 tries. Before their sputters, the Sabres had been considered an elite unit, scoring on 20.5 percent of their chances.

They went into Monday afternoon with a success rate of 16.8 percent, putting them in the lower third of the league.

"We expect more out of ourselves," Drury said. "We know we're capable of doing it. We feel like we've put the time in with video and in practice, so when it doesn't click it does get a little frustrating. But we know in the long run we're going to be where we need to be because we're putting the effort in."

***

When the clock struck midnight and the calendar turned over to 2007, NHL teams were allowed to start negotiating contract extensions with their players on one-year deals.

That means the Sabres -- if they choose -- can hold talks with center Daniel Briere, winger Adam Mair, defenseman Teppo Numminen and goalie Martin Biron and maybe lock them up before they hit unrestricted free agency.

***

Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro didn't appreciate the New Year's revelry taking place Sunday night while he and his teammates were trying to get some shuteye at the Hyatt Regency.

But that's when it sunk in how popular former coach Ted Nolan had been in Buffalo.

"When they're chanting 'Let's go Sabres!' and 'Teddy!' in the hotel hallways at 4:30 in the morning, you've got to figure he was pretty popular," DiPietro said. "There was some party or something going on in our hallway while we were trying to sleep. It was craziness, craziness."

***

After former Sabres winger Miroslav Satan returned to Buffalo for the first time as an Islander last season, Ruff told reporters after the game that he "didn't want Miro to score," and he said it with such intensity it seemed the coach took the matchup personally.

Ruff was asked Monday if he still maintains such feelings about Satan.

"I don't remember if I said that," Ruff said coyly. "I was quoted? You've got to get the digital stuff out . . . and let me listen to it."

Ruff then turned diplomatic.

"If I did [say that], it is important because Miro's a damn good goal scorer," Ruff said. "You don't want him to score. It was important to keep him off the board.

"Our focus tonight was him and [Alexei] Yashin and [Jason] Blake. Keep them off the board. Maybe there was little more emphasis on keeping Miro out of the game, but not a lot more than keeping their other two big guys out of the game, too."

***

A reminder: Voting for the All-Star Game ends at 11:59 tonight at NHL.com/allstarballot.

Goalie Ryan Miller, defenseman Brian Campbell and Briere are the Sabres with the best chances to be voted onto the Eastern Conference roster.

And let's not forget old friend Rory Fitzpatrick. The Vancouver Canucks defenseman and write-in candidate could use a late push to get on the Western Conference squad.

***

Sabres enforcer Andrew Peters returned to the lineup, and winger Drew Stafford was sent back to the Rochester Americans after skating in Saturday's season-sweeping victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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