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Paetsch gets his chance to shine Rivet out for two weeks after minor knee surgery

Nathan Paetsch has shown flashes of offensive ability. He's had moments of toughness. There have been times when he's played really well defensively.

If he can do all three at the same time, he'll be an adequate replacement for Craig Rivet.

Paetsch went from the sidelines to the spotlight Wednesday, when it was learned Rivet will be out of the Buffalo Sabres' lineup for at least two weeks. The captain underwent arthroscopic surgery on a sore and swollen knee.

"He's been playing on a pretty sore knee that hasn't been settling down, and we decided to get it done," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "It's an opportunity for Nathan to step in and get some quality playing time. We still feel we have six solid NHL defensemen."

Paetsch will play his first game of the season tonight when the Sabres visit the Minnesota Wild in Xcel Energy Center. He is accustomed to stepping in for injured Sabres. He played 122 games the past two seasons as the team's seventh defenseman, the role he's again filling this year.

"It's always been my job to stay prepared, and I've done the best I could," Paetsch said. "I feel really good to go."

He'll need to be to replace Rivet. The defenseman has already impressed Buffalo fans with his grit, defense and offensive ability. Imagine how much better he'd have been if he were healthy.

Despite the lingering soreness, Rivet played the first six games and recorded three assists, including one Tuesday in a 3-2 shootout victory over Boston. His ice-time numbers spiked against the Bruins (20:07) after slight dips against Vancouver on Friday (18:57) and Atlanta on Saturday (16:43).

"He's been hobbling pretty good," Ruff said. "I really thought in the Vancouver game it was really noticeable. He got through that game, and then felt a little better. I thought he played really good again [Tuesday] night, but it's something that needed to be done because it wasn't going to go away.

"They thought the procedure went great. He's disappointed, obviously. I've got to give him a lot of credit. I don't think a couple games he'd be able to play, and he was able to play, and then to play as well as he did."

Paetsch knows he's stepping in for a quality player (no one is expected to wear the "C" in Rivet's absence), but Paetsch said it doesn't affect his mentality. He'll still be the guy who had seven points in a seven-game stretch in 2006-07 and the guy who isn't afraid to hit and drop the gloves.

"We know that he can get up ice and be an offensive weapon for us," Ruff said. "We know that he's got good character. He's stepped in and scrapped with some pretty tough guys. That's what we've liked about him. He can be a lot of both, but it's going to start in his own end with playing good hockey for us."

The injury and substitution create two interesting subplots.

One is the blue-line reunion of Henrik Tallinder and Toni Lydman, the team's former No. 1 pairing. They struggled at times last season and will look to regain past form.

Also, the moves break up the much-lauded matching of left-handers and right-handers. The Sabres had been promoting that as a key to their defensive resurgence. But now the only mixed pair has the left-handed Paetsch alongside right-handed Teppo Numminen. Tallinder and Lydman are both lefties, as are Jaroslav Spacek and partner Andrej Sekera.

It will be up to those six to make it work because the Sabres have no plans to summon anyone from the minors. If the Sabres suddenly struggle to clear the puck, that could be why.

Of course, if mistakes happen tonight, it could be because Minnesota is forcing them. The Wild is 4-0 and has allowed just seven goals.

But the Sabres haven't lost, either, at least not in regulation. They take a 5-0-1 record into their two-game road trip, which concludes Saturday in Colorado. Paetsch wants to make sure the standings look even better when Rivet is back.

"I want to come in and play to the best of my ability to help the team keep rolling," he said. "We're playing great, and I want to step in and be able to continue that success."


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