The Buffalo Sabres may not be able to fill the net, but they certainly know where the nets are. That's because they skated toward them over and over and over again Monday.
The Sabres returned to the ice in HSBC Arena after yet another unproductive weekend, and the theme of practice was clear: Put the puck in the net. The Sabres skated for 90 minutes, and it was a nearly nonstop barrage of three-on-nones, two-on-nones, two-on-ones, one-on-ones and three-on-twos.
It was expected after the Sabres took 79 shots in a pair of losses and scored just once.
"Our game was where we need to be, and we just didn't finish," coach Lindy Ruff said. "We were working hard on finish today."
One player who probably wants to find the net more than the others is Maxim Afinogenov. The right winger was benched for the final portion of Saturday's 2-1 loss in Boston after the Bruins converted his turnover into a goal. His words indicated he spent part of Sunday's off day thinking about the woes facing himself and the last-place Sabres.
"We can improve in little areas, especially me," he said. "It's just little mistakes. Maybe I have to concentrate on finishing my chances, too, and hopefully it's going our way soon.
"Mistakes happen. I got this mistake. I know it's a bad mistake. We got a goal against, but I can't hang my head down right now. I've got to help the team and keep working on myself and finish my chances. I've got a lot of them."
Ruff understands it may take time for Afinogenov to stop making miscues. The winger is freewheel hockey personified, a player who thrives on using his skill to torment the opposition. But with scoring down and defensive schemes up, his individual efforts need to take a hiatus.
"It's frustrating for him because the game has changed a little bit toward even if you beat one guy, you're going to have to beat another guy," Ruff said. "He's put himself in some very high-risk situations that have hurt us as a team.
"He's made a lot of good plays, but there are situations where you're going to have to go north-south instead of east-west, and I think he understands that. It's painful, but I think he understands. He says, 'Well, I'm just trying to make something happen.' Well, making something happen sometimes in those situations, it happens for the wrong team."
The Sabres' defensive corps is nearing full strength. Nolan Pratt, who has played just once because of a groin injury, is expected to be ready when the Sabres play in Ottawa on Thursday.
"I felt really good out there today, and I'm hoping to be ready for the next game," Pratt said. "It's good to get a few hard days of practice in and test everything."
If Pratt returns, that would leave Dmitri Kalinin (knee) as the only Sabres blue-liner sidelined.
Monday's practice came to a crashing halt during the two-on-one drills.
Forwards Daniel Paille and Michael Ryan were challenging Pratt, with Paille carrying the puck. He was going full speed and, after getting too close to the net, tried to jump over the bent defenseman. Paille soared into the back boards with a thunderous racket.
"He hit as hard as I've seen anybody hit," Ruff said. "He's lucky in that situation he didn't get hurt."
Paille, who took a brief respite before continuing practice, already has taken his share of body blows, including a flattening last month in Florida while skating across the middle.
"The hit in Florida, at least I could hit him back," Paille said. "You can't hit the boards."