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An unproductive power play, now a woeful 0 for 18 for the season, wasn't the only thing that got attention Wednesday as the Buffalo Sabres prepared for tonight's game against the Washington Capitals at Marine Midland Arena.

"There were a lot of things to be dealt with," said coach Lindy Ruff, in explaining why he put his team through a longer-than-usual practice following Tuesday night's 4-2 loss to Dallas in Buffalo's home opener.

Better forechecking and eliminating turnovers were among the things covered.

According to Ruff, the Sabres' forechecking against the Stars was "undisciplined," leading to the breakaways that resulted in two Dallas goals in the first 3:37. Buffalo never recovered from the early barrage.

A lot was made of the fact that Dominik Hasek allowed two goals in the first three shots on net, both breakaway plays, but Ruff said he was more disappointed with how the Sabres played around their all-star goalie.

Help for the power play is expected to come from defenseman Alexei Zhitnik, who will be in the lineup tonight (7:00, Radio 104.1 FM) for his first game. After missing all of training camp, the 25-year-old defenseman signed a one-year contract with the Sabres on Tuesday.

To make room on the roster for Zhitnik, the Sabres sent defenseman Mike Hurlbut to Rochester. That leaves Buffalo with only six able-bodied defensemen. Jason Woolley is about a week away from playing because of a hairline fracture of his left thumb.

The swift-skating Zhitnik went through his first practice Wednesday and pronounced himself at about 80 percent ready.

"I was skating every day but I'm not in game condition," Zhitnik said. "The first game I'm going to have to be patient, take it step by step and go
from there. I don't want to try to do too much and make a lot of mistakes."

Ruff and his staff will be careful to try to limit Zhitnik to short shifts the first time out. It's almost certain he will be used on the power play, where his mobility and offensive skills have to help.

Besides his conditioning, Zhitnik also will have to brush up on the system differences that Ruff has brought with him.

"More forechecking," Zhitnik said of one difference from last season.

Assistant coach Don Lever gave the power play units some extra practice time to introduce Zhitnik to some of the plays the Sabres are attempting.

Almost as fresh as Tuesday night's home-ice embarrassment is the 6-2 loss the Sabres suffered last Friday night to the Capitals on the road. Washington erupted for four goals in the third period to win that game.

The Sabres, who play at New Jersey Saturday night, are in a stretch where they play a game every other night. Ruff thinks that is good because it doesn't leave a lot of time to dwell on what happened against the Stars.

"We're fortunate in that we can just go on to the next one," he said.

Again the Sabres will have to be prepared for a different-looking Washington team under new coach Ron Wilson, who was signed after he was let go by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

"Washington is a team with real good speed. They've changed their makeup and gotten away from some of the grit," Ruff said.

The Capitals played a defensive style under Jim Schoenfeld, but Wilson is allowing a more free-wheeling attack, especially with the addition of skillful newcomers such as Jaroslav Svejkovsky, Richard Zednik, Jan Bulis and Jan Benda.

Svejkovsky scored four goals in the regular-season finale against the Sabres here last year after he was called up from the American Hockey League. Zednik, the 249th player selected in the 1994 NHL entry draft, scored three goals in the first three games to lead NHL rookies and share the overall league lead.
The Greater Buffalo Partnership will host the Official Face-Off Luncheon for the Sabres at the Marine Midland Arena Harbour Club noon to 1:30 p.m. Oct. 24.

A limited number of patron tables, featuring a Sabres player and nine guests, are available to Partnership members for $300. Individual tickets are $25 for members, $32 for non-members.

Tickets must be purchased in advance by calling 852-7100, ext. 340.

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