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Chara's injury leaves big gap in Sens' lineup

The Buffalo Sabres' forwards had just made a bad cross-ice pass in the offensive zone, so coach Lindy Ruff blew his whistle.

"You think you're going to get away with that in the game?" he yelled during Thursday's practice. "Chara is 6-foot-9 with an 8-foot stick!"

Ruff was referring to Ottawa defenseman Zdeno Chara, the biggest obstacle the Sabres faced in their 4-2 loss to the Senators on Saturday. But the Sabres no longer have to worry about him for tonight's rematch in HSBC Arena.

Chara hurt his hand during a fight with Pittsburgh's Eric Cairns on Tuesday and didn't make the trip to Buffalo. Chara will also miss Saturday's game against Philadelphia.

Cairns speared Chara, stirring the defenseman to fight, and has been suspended for three games.

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The Sabres are sending forward Adam Mair to Pittsburgh for another opinion on his concussion.

Mair, who's been out since suffering the concussion Jan. 12, has shown inconsistencies in his testing. Mair can't be cleared to play until he passes the tests, and he does well on some but not on others.

"There's some irregularities with that testing that we need to have another specialist look at and see if he can figure out why," Ruff said. "Is it concussion related? Is it testing related? He feels good. He's been practicing, a little exercise. But from our standpoint we want to make sure, as bad a concussion as he had, that he's a healthy person before we get him back in."

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The Sabres' lines continue to shuffle -- with one exception -- as Ruff tries to capture chemistry.

The only line that remained from Monday's loss in Atlanta to Wednesday's loss to Carolina was the only one to survive from Wednesday's game to Thursday's practice. Derek Roy is still centering for left wing Thomas Vanek and right wing Maxim Afinogenov.

"They need each other. They've had their most success when they've been together," Ruff said. "There's things on that line that just keep on working."

Vanek scored the second goal against the Hurricanes with assists from Roy and Afinogenov. At least one of the three players has scored in six of the past nine games.

Other lines Thursday had Chris Drury with wingers Ales Kotalik and Mike Grier, Jiri Novotny in the middle of Daniel Briere and J.P. Dumont, and Paul Gaustad centering Taylor Pyatt and Jason Pominville.

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The Sabres have given up 30 goals in their past eight games, an average of 3.75 per game. They gave up 27 goals in the 11 games prior, an average of 2.45.

"I don't think it's necessarily defensively. It's just as a whole," defenseman Jay McKee said. "Ask our goaltenders. They've both had some goals over the last number of games that they would like to have back. You can ask our defense, are there some plays that we'd like to have back? We'd say 'yes.' Our forwards, if you asked them the same question, they would say there's some turnovers that we made that we'd like to have back."

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The NHL will test each team a minimum of twice per year for anabolic steroids and growth hormones, and the league made its second visit to the Sabres on Thursday. . . . Forward Andrew Peters attended the team meeting and testing but did not practice due to illness.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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