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Ellis hopes he's found a home

ATLANTA -- The Buffalo Sabres received their NHL identification cards last week. Some players were grumbling about bad head shots that got used, but not Matt Ellis. He couldn't complain because he didn't get his. He's on his third team since February, so it was anybody's guess where his card was.

"Look at the map and throw a dart," he said, jokingly.

Ellis, once dubbed "Suitcase" by his wife because of all the moves, can kid about his journeyman status now. It's because he's firmly entrenched in the lineup.

Ellis centered the fourth line Saturday for the third straight game, lining up alongside Patrick Kaleta and Andrew Peters against the Atlanta Thrashers. It's good to get stability after a whirlwind month that saw him get claimed off waivers from Los Angeles just before the start of the season.

"The guys embraced me with open arms, and that made what might be an awkward situation a lot easier for me," Ellis said. "I'm definitely feeling pretty good, excited to be in the lineup and contributing in any way I can. The team's off to a great start, and I'm just excited to be part of it."

The Sabres picked up the 27-year-old center because they weren't sure if Tim Connolly and Adam Mair would be ready at the start of the season. Connolly has yet to play because of a back injury, and after Paul Gaustad and Jochen Hecht injured their hands, Ellis went from the 14th forward to a top-12 spot.

"I was in a similar situation last year in Detroit, made the team as the 13th forward and started as a healthy scratch as an extra for the first two games of the season," Ellis said. "The injury bug hit right away, and I was able to jump in and stay in the lineup awhile and contribute while the team was banged up. It's a role that I'm familiar with.

"There's certain things that come with it. One of the biggest things being a guy in that position is your mental preparation. You've got to be ready when the time comes. It's nice that I've been in this position before so I kind of know what's needed."

Ellis was waived by Detroit in February and went to L.A. But while he was with the Red Wings, he absorbed as much as he could from the eventual Stanley Cup champs. What he's learning about the Sabres is how hard they've worked so far.

"Guys are sacrificing for each other, buying into what the coaches are bringing here, and guys are playing for one another," Ellis said. "The biggest thing that I've seen so far is the level of competition. Guys compete on every puck. Guys compete in every battle, and it's good to be part of that."

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Gaustad, who had surgery two weeks ago to repair a ligament in his thumb, isn't sure if he's in a good mood or feeling tortured. He has reached a point where he can skate with his teammates, but he isn't allowed to handle pucks or do drills.

"It's good to be back on the ice -- good and bad," Gaustad said. "To be out there and you can't play, you just get that itch. But I'm getting better every day, a little bit better."

Gaustad is out for another two to four weeks, but he's spending his time in the video room with hopes it'll teach him new tricks.

"I'm taking positives out of this," he said. "I'll become a better player after because I can watch the video on all the games and try to learn as much as I can."

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Those who wondered whether Patrick Kaleta was willing to fight got their answer early Saturday. The right winger squared off in a brief battle with former Sabres prospect Chris Thorburn 7 1/2 minutes into the game.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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