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Drury yearns for a line to call his own

Chris Drury leads a colorful life inside HSBC Arena. He would love to spend more time in basic black.

Visiting teams always write the Buffalo Sabres' forward lines on the wall on game days. The first two waver only if there's an injury, so the coaches walk in, pull out their black marker and write "Hecht-Briere-Pominville" and "Vanek-Roy-Afinogenov."

Then they go watch the morning skate to see who Drury is with and return to fill out the rest of the chart. The black pen has usually disappeared, so Drury and his linemates end up in red, blue, purple or orange.

Permanent black sounds so much better to Drury.

"My ultimate goal, and I would guess every forward's ultimate goal, is to be on a line that has so much success that it wouldn't be touched," Drury said Monday. "It would be nice to get that."

The latest experiment to find dependable sidekicks for Drury continues tonight when the Sabres host the Montreal Canadiens. The Sabres co-captain will center left wing Paul Gaustad and right wing Ales Kotalik for just the second time. They were put together for Saturday's game against Ottawa because the trio of Drury, Kotalik and Jiri Novotny failed to click.

Kotalik hasn't scored in 13 games. Novotny has one goal in his last eight games. Drury hasn't scored in four games but had goals in seven of nine before that.

"It just wasn't happening," Drury said. "I don't know what it was specifically. It's one of those things where you wish you did. We weren't getting scored on, we just really weren't producing much in the other end."

Adjusting to new linemates isn't new to Drury. He's been doing it much of his career. Colorado had Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, so Drury would get whoever wasn't clicking with them. His one season in Calgary failed to generate a line that warranted a nickname.

In Buffalo, the Sabres have been pleased with Daniel Briere skating alongside Jochen Hecht and either Jason Pominville or the departed J.P. Dumont. Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek have built a connection dating to their Rochester days, and Maxim Afinogenov fits in well with them.

That leaves Drury with . . .

"I kind of feel like I'm always in that position, having to adjust on the fly," he said. "I don't think since I've got here I've ever been on one set line. I'm always open and available to change. This isn't any different.

"I kind of feel like my career has been like that. I don't know why. Hopefully, the coaches know I'm not going to complain, and whoever they put me with I'm going to play hard with. Hopefully, I'm looked at like a guy that's easy to play with."

Drury clicked well with Roy during last season's playoffs, but the only way they'll be reunited is if Tim Connolly returns to center Afinogenov and Vanek. The third member of the Drury-Roy line was Mike Grier. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff is hoping Gaustad -- who plays a hard-nosed style similar to Grier -- can connect with Drury. It could take time since Gaustad is moving from center to left wing, a position he hasn't played since he was a kid.

"Maybe Paul Gaustad and Chris can become those two guys on the line that kind of get some chemistry," Ruff said. "Often times, it's two guys on the line, and there's one guy that's kind of interchangeable. Maybe Paul and Chris can develop a little bit of chemistry."

Despite the line changes, Drury continues to produce. He's second on the Sabres with 17 goals (eight have come on the power play), and he's on pace to score 44 times and add 31 assists. He's the offensive key to the line, so Gaustad is planning to do Drury a favor.

He's going to adjust to Drury rather than the other way around.

"I just try to read off Chris as much as possible," Gaustad said. "I think I'm still here to provide energy and try to get the puck to Al and Dru as much as possible."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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