A fraction of the old Tim Connolly apparently is better than no Tim Connolly at all.
One day after revealing the dynamic Buffalo Sabres center was no longer suffering post-concussion symptoms and could be back by March, coach Lindy Ruff noted the team doesn't expect Connolly to be the same player he was last season.
Connolly posted career stats with 16 goals and 39 assists last season but that was after coming to camp as a finely tuned physical specimen. He's far from that today.
"He won't reach the level he was at before the season started last year," Ruff said Tuesday before the Sabres crushed the Boston Bruins, 7-1, in HSBC Arena. "There's no chance of getting to that level of fitness.
"But we feel that we can get him to the level where he'll play and help the team. I'm guessing in six to eight weeks. Tim might argue he can do it in four, but we'll have to keep a close handle on it and see where we get to. But I know it's a long way down the road."
A possible scenario for Connolly's return could be as a power-play specialist to work his way back into game shape down the homestretch in preparation for the playoffs.
Ruff said Connolly's daily regimen, as long as there are no setbacks, will include solitary skating and an off-ice workout. Connolly might join team drills soon.
"It's a big step in the right direction," Ruff said of Connolly getting on the ice. "In the picture of everything, it's a small step for him. It means he's just one step closer. There's a lot of steps after this."
The Sabres may have to proceed cautiously. Setbacks are common in rehabilitating from concussions. If Connolly's symptoms return more weeks could be added to his timetable.
Nevertheless, Ruff indicated Connolly probably could handle getting hit.
"Right now, I don't think contact would affect him one way or the other," Ruff said. "That's just my own feeling. But our progression is to get the fitness level up before we even get involved with that."
With defenseman Henrik Tallinder back from his sprained ankle, Ruff found room for erstwhile defenseman Nathan Paetsch as a fourth-line winger. Paetsch remained in the lineup because of his recent power-play contributions. His wrister from the point led to Chris Drury's man-advantage goal that gave Buffalo a 2-0 lead 8:33 into the game.
"It was great," Paetsch said. "I have no problems with playing forward. I had a blast out there tonight. I just want to go out there and work hard and show them I got a lot of different things I can do for them."
With 6:08 left in a lopsided game, Sabres center Derek Roy was given unsportsmanlike conduct and 10-minute misconduct penalties for slamming his stick into the glass, breaking the pane and causing a delay. It's uncertain why Roy did it, although he had just missed a home-run pass that turned into an icing.
"Not acceptable," Ruff said. "I'll leave it there. It'll be dealt with."
Ruff won't need to make a decision on Paetsch for Thursday's game against the Bruins in TD Banknorth Garden. On Tuesday, center Jiri Novotny tweaked the high ankle sprain that has kept him out four games.