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UNIONDALE, L.I. -- Sabres defenseman Richard Smehlik will be out for at least a week after tearing cartilage in his rib cage. He did not make the trip for Buffalo's game Saturday against the New York Islanders.

Smehlik suffered the injury in the first period Friday against the Florida Panthers and was in severe pain after the game. He apparently had problems breathing and needed help taking off his skates in the locker room.

The Sabres also were without forward Erik Rasmussen, who missed his fifth straight game with a bruised hand. Winger Dixon Ward was a healthy scratch. Mariusz Czerkawski, the Islanders' leading scorer, missed the game with a strained back muscle.

Smehlik likely will be placed on the injured list. The Sabres must decide by today whether to promote a defenseman from Rochester because rosters are frozen until after Christmas.

The likely candidates are rookie Brian Campbell and Mike Hurlbut. Either might help the Sabres' horrendous power play, which is in a 1-for-47 slump.

Both defensemen have weaknesses. Campbell performed well in Buffalo but has been average in Rochester. Hurlbut has been more effective on the Amerks' power play, but he is considered too slow for the NHL.

"If we had an answer in Rochester we would bring it, but I don't think there's an answer there," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "Obviously, we need somebody for our power play because the guys that are here aren't getting it done."

Smehlik had been struggling for most of the season, but he played much better against Philadelphia after being benched for four games. He was off to a good start against Florida before suffering the injury.

Veteran James Patrick was back in the lineup Saturday night. Patrick arguably has been the Sabres' most consistent defenseman, but he has been limited to about 13 minutes per game. He has been scratched for nine games this season.

"James has done a great job," Ruff said. "It's not like we're taking a step back. We planned on trying to get James back every second or third game."
Times are so tough for the Islanders that they are rationing hockey sticks and limiting the pairs of skates purchased for each player.

Sources within the organizationsaid each player is allowed eight dozen sticks and two pairs of skates for use in practice and games throughout the season. When players exceed the limit, they must buy their own equipment or borrow from a teammate.

Last year, some players borrowed aluminum shafts from players around the league because the Islanders refused to buy them, apparently because they are more expensive and easier to break than graphite.

The Islanders, with an average age of 24.7 years, are the youngest team in the league, and have been trying to rebuild and save money under General Manager Mike Milbury.

It has not helped attendance in Nassau Coliseum. Ten of the Islanders' 14 home games have drawn crowds of less than 10,000.
Both halves of the Biron vs. Biron matchup were out. Sabres goalie Martin Biron had the game off. His brother, Isles defenseman Mathieu Biron, left the team to join Team Canada in the World Junior Tournament.

Martin Biron had played well for four straight games but he showed signs of getting tired. Dwayne Roloson started against the Panthers.

"Dwayne deserves to play," Ruff said. "At the same time, Marty had some burnout. You don't see many young goalies hang in there on a consistent level."

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