The Buffalo Sabres' everlasting search for an efficient power play took yet another turn Tuesday when coach Lindy Ruff reconfigured his two units, hoping a few twists in personnel would provide fresh looks at the net tonight when they play the Chicago Blackhawks in the United Center.
Ruff dedicated the first 30 minutes of practice in HSBC Arena solely to the power play. He split up centers Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, who had been on the same unit virtually all season. He also appeared ready to give Dmitri Kalinin time at the point in place of Brian Campbell.
As always, it's subject to change.
"We're trying a couple different things," Ruff said. "We're up for the challenge. We've had some struggles. But by rotating the units around, there's a good chance we'll come out of it."
Ruff's biggest headache with the PP this season has been gaining entry in the zone. The Sabres have been caught several times in recent weeks either getting stopped in the neutral zone or allowing opposing defensemen to anticipate their entry passes. It usually equates to a quick clearing pass and time wasted.
The Sabres last season had the NHL's third-best power play with one group that consisted mostly of left-handed shooters and another dominated by right-handed shooters. Ruff's latest units were a mix. Forward Ales Kotalik moved from the left point to the right and Jason Pominville flipped from right to left.
Briere, Maxim Afinogenov and Thomas Vanek were united up front in practice Tuesday with Pominville and Jaroslav Spacek at the points. Drury was with Derek Roy and Paul Gaustad with Kotalik and Kalinin at the points. Campbell and Jochen Hecht, regulars on the power play, did not skate with either unit.
"Sometimes, a different look with a different guy in a different spot, breaking up me and Danny and changing the 'D' a little bit [helps]," Drury said. "Sometimes, you see things one way with one group and something opens up."
Buffalo was 0 for 5 and had three shots on goal with the extra man in its 4-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday. The Sabres had produced a power-play goal in six straight games but were just 13 for 102 (12.7 percent) and had scored two PP goals in the same game only once since Nov. 22.
The unit was 19th going into Tuesday night's games at 16.7 percent and was on pace for 76 PP goals this season. Last season, when they converted 21.2 percent, the Sabres scored 101 goals with the extra man.
The results might be similar, but the Blackhawks look much different than they did a year ago. It starts with new coach Denis Savard, who replaced the fired Trent Yawney on Nov. 29. The Blackhawks were playing better under Savard, but they enter tonight's game with a three-game losing streak.
Defenseman Adrian Aucoin, who was sidelined for 49 games last season, is expected to be in the lineup. The Blackhawks also traded for Sabres killer Martin Havlat, formerly of Ottawa, and signed veteran sniper Peter Bondra, a career 500-goal scorer.
Ruff said he was planning to give backup goalie Martin Biron a start at some point in the next week. It could come tonight. Generally, Ruff prefers to start his backup goalies on the road, particularly against weaker Western Conference teams. It's also the first of back-to-back games for the Sabres, who play the Maple Leafs on Thursday at home.
Rochester Americans forwards Drew Stafford and Clarke MacArthur have been named to the AHL All-Star Classic during festivities Jan. 28-29 at Ricoh Coliseum in Toronto.