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Injuries continue to haunt defensemen

Lindy Ruff was hoping to get good news this morning about the health of his defensive corps. It didn't appear he would.

Injured defensemen Jaroslav Spacek and Nolan Pratt practiced Thursday as the Buffalo Sabres prepared to host Toronto, but neither sounded like he'd be ready to return to the lineup tonight.

Spacek has a shoulder injury that's forced him out of the last three games and seven of the past eight. He said he's progressing and hopes to play either tonight or Saturday in Boston, but it's possible he'll be out until Thursday in Ottawa.

"It's pretty close," Spacek said. "I just want to make sure it doesn't happen again. We've got two games and then four days off, and we'll see if I can maybe play one game. But I just don't know right now."

Pratt was signed last week and hurt his groin in his opener. He's missed two games.

"I'm just trying to be careful right now so I don't aggravate it more and set myself back," said Pratt. "It'd be nice to play as soon as possible. I want to get back in there. I've got a lot to prove, so this isn't the ideal situation of me coming in here and having this happen."

The Sabres had eight defensemen at practice, and if neither Pratt nor Spacek is available, rookies Mike Weber and Andrej Sekera will remain in the lineup.

"We're hopeful to get an update [today] and get somebody back," Ruff said.


The Maple Leafs, meanwhile, will be bolstered by the return of winger Darcy Tucker and defenseman Bryan McCabe. Tucker missed the previous seven games with a knee injury. McCabe also was sidelined for seven games with a groin strain. The ever-pesky Tucker is expected to skate with Mark Bell (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and Chad Kilger (6-4, 224), giving the Leafs a line with size and tenacity.

"I don't know what I'm going to do playing with those two big guys," said the 5-10, 178-pound Tucker. "We're relatively intense taking the body."


The Sabres have scored just 15 goals in their past six games, but the Leafs could be the ideal remedy for that drought. Toronto has allowed a league-high 62 goals through its 16 games.

Several Sabres should be eager to test Toronto's defense:

Drew Stafford has one goal in the last 13 games.

Daniel Paille has one goal in the past 11 games.

Maxim Afinogenov has two goals in the past 10 games.

Jochen Hecht has two goals in the past nine games.

Michael Ryan has no goals in his eight games.

Jason Pominville hasn't scored in six straight.


The previous meeting between the teams produced the Sabres' first nonsellout in two seasons, but tonight will be a packed house. Toronto coach Paul Maurice is looking forward to it.

"I think it's been pretty pro-Leaf down there," Maurice said. "It seems like there's a lot of Leaf fans in the building, and there's enough excitement going on between the two sides, so that's why I think these games are great. There'll be enough 'Go, Leafs, Go' to drive the Buffalo fans nuts, and that will be a lot of fun for everyone."


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