Maxim Afinogenov thought amnesia had struck the Buffalo Sabres' coaching staff. He looked at the lineup sheet, saw he was listed at left wing, and figured somebody behind the bench must have taken a shot to the noggin.
After all, the 29-year-old has been playing right wing for only about 25 years.
"I thought maybe he forgot I'm right side," Afinogenov said. "I made sure to ask [assistant coach] James [Patrick], 'You guys remember I'm right?' But it's working pretty well right now."
The unexpected move across the ice has indeed had a few good moments for Afinogenov and his linemates. Afinogenov, center Adam Mair and right wing Ales Kotalik had their best game of the season Thursday against Minnesota. The line combined for one goal, one assist, six shots and five hits.
They were hoping to improve Saturday night against Colorado.
"That line has given us some timely goals when we've needed them," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "Obviously, it's something we need. We need good defensive play out of that line, but we need production."
Kotalik entered the game against the Avalanche second on the Sabres with four goals and seven points. Afinogenov's five assists were tops on the team.
A small part of the production can be credited to the wing switch. Kotalik and Afinogenov both prefer playing right wing, but Kotalik was given the spot because of a simple reason: He was playing better. Kotalik was the Sabres' fifth-leading scorer last season, while Afinogenov was 12th.
"Al had been going so good on the right, and Max hadn't been going that good on the right, so the easy decision was . . .," Ruff said.
The coach pleaded his case that it usually doesn't matter which side a player is on. He said the only time it impacts anything is when the players break out of their own zone. But Afinogenov has been playing the right wing so long, there definitely were adjustments that had to be made.
"It's a difference, but I'm used to that already. I pretty much know what I'm doing there now," Afinogenov said. "When you're in the offensive zone it's little different moves that you've got to make, when you go to the net and stuff."
Getting to the net is the line's most important job, according to Mair. They are able to do it when they play a simple style, which is one thing the flashy Afinogenov has had trouble with in the past.
"Max has been real good," Mair said. "He was able to utilize Al and myself with little give-and-go plays through the neutral zone that created some space and allowed him to move his feet and not have to beat too many guys by himself."
And as a surprise to even himself, Afinogenov did all the work while playing left wing.
"If the team is winning it's probably good," he said of the switch. "You've got to help the team sometimes. It's working right now."