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VARADA'S LINEMATES ARE HOT -- BUT HE'S NOT

Dixon Ward scored three goals for the Buffalo Sabres in a game last week. Michael Peca netted two more when the Sabres won Sunday night.

Their linemate, Vaclav Varada, figures it has to be his turn soon.

"I have to chip in sometimes," Varada said. "That's what I'm not doing right now. I'm giving them the puck and they are getting the goals right now. Sometime I have to do it myself."

Varada has been a solid contributor for the Sabres in his first full season in the National Hockey League. He's fit in on the team's "checking" line, and he hits everything he can catch. Varada's biggest problem is he's stuck at one goal and seven assists after 19 games.

"We're joking with him. Guys are wondering if he's on our line, where he is when we're scoring all these goals," Peca said. "We're joking that we're not even looking for him. The truth is, we're trying to get him involved. We're trying to get him opportunities."

Varada added, "It's tough. I don't want to think about it too much. I know what brought me to the NHL. It wasn't scoring. It was all-around play. I have to play that way, and play hard."

Varada, a native of the Czech Republic, didn't have trouble scoring goals earlier in his career. As a junior, he had 50 goals in 68 games for Tacoma of the Western Hockey League in 1994-95. Varada added 39 goals in 59 games for Kelowna of the same league a year later.

After turning pro, Varada had 53 goals in 98 games for Rochester of the American Hockey League. He arrived in Buffalo last March.

"He has to be patient," assistant coach Don Lever said about Varada's offense. "He's not playing the power play, like he did in junior, and he's not playing the power play like he did in the American League.

"He's a young kid that's going to be up and down, up and down. I think Varada's biggest problem is he is thinking that his lack of offensive production is hurting himself. We're more concerned with him playing more consistent hockey. The more patient he gets and the less frustrated he gets, the more scoring chances he'll get. He's fighting himself offensively, but overall, we're more than happy the way he finishes checks and plays two ways."

It was a bit of a surprise that Varada was placed on the checking line, since he was regarded as a scorer. But he's improved the performance of that line and he likes playing with Peca and Ward.

"I feel very confident with them," Varada said. "I like to play on the checking line, go against the top line every night."

Varada, who scored five goals in 27 games with the Sabres last season, wouldn't mind getting a lucky break like the one Ward received Sunday night in Tampa Bay. Ward tried a pass across the slot to Peca but the puck bounced off an opposing defenseman's skate and slid into the far corner of the net.

"It seems like Dixon has the bounces right now," Varada said. "Everything is going his way. That's good for him, and good for our team. I think I have to do the same thing -- throw it to the net and hopefully it will go in."

Peca added, "Anyone that's been through a dry spell knows it's tough. I said to have fun with it and keep working hard, and you're going to get bounces. The worst thing you can do is get down on yourself and start questioning yourself -- change everything you're doing.

"He's a natural goal-scorer and he's not going to stay this way much longer."

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