Drew Stafford finally was rebounding from a dismal start. He scored in the Buffalo Sabres' last two games, breaking out of a slide that saw him find the net just once in 15 outings. He had been elevated back to the top line. He was getting power-play minutes.
That resurgence has come to a halt. The right winger injured his shoulder in Wednesday's victory over Ottawa, and he should miss at least this weekend's home-and-home series with the Montreal Canadiens.
"It looks like he'll be out for a little while," coach Lindy Ruff said Thursday. "We don't know how long, but it's somewhere around that strain area where it could be days, it could be maybe a little bit longer."
Stafford missed most of the third period Wednesday, but Ruff said he's not sure exactly how Stafford was nicked. The second-year pro had a shoulder ailment in the preseason that forced him to miss a game and a few practices.
"He missed a little bit of time before with a shoulder that was sore, so there is some concern with it," Ruff said.
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Stafford's injury apparently will give Ales Kotalik a boost in status, but it will break up a combination that Ruff had been fond of in recent games.
Kotalik was skating with center Derek Roy and left wing Thomas Vanek in Thursday's practice, so that could be the No. 1 line that will face the Canadiens tonight in HSBC Arena.
Daniel Paille replaced Kotalik alongside center Tim Connolly and right wing Maxim Afinogenov. Ruff had noted how well Paille and Michael Ryan had been performing together. Ryan stayed with center Paul Gaustad and was joined on the other wing by Andrew Peters.
Ryan scored his first goal in the 4-2 victory over Ottawa, with Paille earning the primary assist.
"We're getting a lot good play out of Dan Paille and Mike Ryan," Ruff said. "They're a little bit of the grit for us. They've used their speed. Michael's had some great opportunities that he's missed. It's great to see those guys get rewarded for putting the work in. They've been a big part of the reason we've played well."
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Center Adam Mair, who's missed six games with a high right ankle sprain, skated with his teammates for the first time since getting hurt Nov. 5.
"We're ahead of schedule, which is good," Mair said. "It's just a matter of being able to go out there and do everything you want to do without hurting it any more or risk hurting it any more."
Mair participated only in noncontact drills, and there's no return date set yet.
"He's doing OK," Ruff said. "He's not ready. He's not even ready to participate in contact.
"Ankles are tough. They get to this point where you start skating, and then I think you have to be careful that you don't get any setbacks. In his case, it's getting out there and getting some exercise. He still feels it, but the exercise is good for him."
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It appears the Russian word for Thanksgiving is Thanksgiving.
Afinogenov skated to the bench Thursday to talk with a friend, and they began chatting in their native tongue. Afinogenov's part went like this.
"[Indecipherable talk that continued for a while] Thanksgiving [indecipherable talk that continued for a while]."