The Buffalo Sabres who make the NHL All-Star Game will receive ample time to show the league their skills. That's because their coach will be in control of the ice time.
Lindy Ruff secured his second stint as head coach for the Eastern Conference All-Star team Saturday when the Sabres beat the Atlanta Thrashers, 4-1. The teams that lead the two conferences at Friday's midway point will have their coaches named to the top job, and no team can catch the 28-7-3 Sabres.
"I'm happy for Lindy," said the Sabres' Ryan Miller, the front-runner to be the East's starting goaltender. "Hopefully, he has some fun with it and enjoys the moment."
Ruff said half-jokingly last week that all a trip to the All-Star Game would mean was he wouldn't get five days off. But now that it's a reality, he's looking forward to spending time with his players at the exhibition Jan. 24 in Dallas.
"It's a tremendous honor to go. It really is," said Ruff, who coached the East in the 1999 game in Tampa Bay. "What will make it special is I hope we have four or five of our players. That'll be the great thing about it.
"Then I can play the heck out of our players and upset the rest of the league."
Maxim Afinogenov spent Saturday afternoon in the hospital and Saturday night inflicting pain on the Thrashers.
Afinogenov left the morning skate early and went to see doctors because of kidney stone symptoms, but he was well enough to play. He treated the sellout crowd in HSBC Arena to two assists, giving him 25 for the season.
Because Afinogenov's status was in doubt, the Sabres summoned forward Drew Stafford from Rochester. The Amerks were playing in Chicago, and Stafford made it to Buffalo in time to dress in place of Andrew Peters.
One problem. Stafford's equipment didn't arrive.
"If you wondered why his skating was off, he had Brian McCutcheon's skates on," Ruff said of the Sabres' assistant coach.
Buffalo defenseman Jaroslav Spacek blocked a shot off his left leg with 12:02 remaining. He was face-first on the ice for a couple of moments, then was helped to the dressing room without putting any weight on the leg. He did not return.
"He's got a bruised knee. It looks like he'll be fine," Ruff said.
The Sabres drew a crowd to the arena that would make the New Jersey Devils envious -- and it was only the morning skate.
About 2,000 fans -- including a large number of children -- came to the arena to watch the Sabres prepare for Saturday night's game. The Sabres skate at 10 a.m. on game days, and the sessions are open to the public. Fans are not allowed to stay for the visitors, who go on the ice at 11:30 a.m.
There will be no morning skate for Monday's 4 p.m. game with Ted Nolan and the New York Islanders.
A television documentary about the Sabres' rise from bankruptcy to packed houses will air on two stations Monday. "The Game 365," hosted by Fran Healy, will air on Fox Sports New York at 6:30 p.m. and 5 1/2 hours later, at midnight, on MSG.
The 30-minute show, subtitled "Buffalo Stampede," will feature interviews with owner B. Thomas Golisano, managing partner Larry Quinn, General Manager Darcy Regier, coach Lindy Ruff and several players.
The Sabres beat Thrashers goalie Kari Lehtonen, who had won five straight games.The 23-year-old was the highest-drafted European goalie in NHL history, going second overall in 2002. He was twice named top goalie in the Finnish Elite League.
"There's a lot of good things about him," Sabres defenseman Toni Lydman said. "I played with him in the World Cup [in 2004]. He was the third goalie in the World Cup for us, but you could tell in practice he's a good goalie. He covers a lot of net, and he's still got pretty good agility. That's quite a combination."