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Broken rib has sidelined Connolly

Buffalo Sabres center Tim Connolly, who has missed four straight games, told The News during Saturday's meeting with the New York Islanders he suffered a broken rib when he was checked by St. Louis' Keith Tkachuk.

Connolly was hit hard by Tkachuk on Nov. 12, but an initial diagnosis failed to reveal the crack. The Sabres have described the injury only as an "upper body/musculoskeletal" problem.

Connolly actually played two nights later against Columbus and skated a team-high 21:06. He knew, however, something was wrong.

"I've never played through that much pain in my life," he said.

Connolly went for another examination, and X-rays showed a clean break. He was told the recovery time for the injury would be approximately two weeks, and from there it's a matter of starting the season all over again and getting back into game shape.

Connolly has long been beset by bad luck on the injury front, including missing the first 10 games of this season because of two fractured vertebrae in his back.

"You can either be positive of negative, so I'll be positive," Connolly said.

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The Sabres entered Saturday night's game on a streak of five-plus periods without scoring a goal. They also took the ice looking for their goaltenders to snap a slump of their own.

Backup Patrick Lalime got his fifth start of the season. Lalime made 23 saves in his first game as a Sabre, a 7-1 win over the Islanders on Oct. 13 in Nassau Coliseum. Since then, however, he's struggled.

In his next four games (including Wednesday's relief appearance at Boston when he replaced Ryan Miller), Lalime has posted an 0-2-1 record with a 4.13 goals-against average and .853 save percentage.

Miller hasn't been much better. He was 7-1-1, 1.62 in his first nine starts. He's 1-5-1 since with a bloated 4.03.

In October, Miller was 5-1-1 with a 2.07 GAA and .928 save percentage. But in November, he's 3-4-1 with a 3.03 GAA and .892 save percentage. Miller was outplayed in Friday's 3-0 loss to Philadelphia by former teammate Martin Biron.

The Islanders, meanwhile, have goaltending issues of their own. They went with Joey MacDonald for the 10th straight time Saturday while megabucks starter Rick DiPietro sat out his 13th straight game after knee surgery. MacDonald's worst game of the season was the first meeting with Buffalo.

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The injury bug continues to devastate the Islanders as they had seven players out of the lineup Saturday, a group that was joined by center Frans Nielsen after he was injured Friday night in New Jersey. Nielsen is going to be out eight to 12 weeks with multiple leg injuries after taking a hit from behind in the third period from Devils defenseman Mike Mottau.

The Islanders were furious about the hit and are calling for a long suspension for Mottau. They're particularly sensitive about the subject because defenseman Thomas Pock is serving a five-game ban for a hit last week against Ottawa's Ryan Shannon.

"I know Mike Mottau. He's not a dirty player but it was a
dirty hit," said Islanders captain Bill Guerin. "Thomas Pock's not a dirty player. He had a dirty hit against Ottawa and he paid for it."

Guerin wasn't finished.

"I'm just sick and tired of hearing how the players' association has to get together on this. It's all on the players," he said. ". . . It's up to the players to respect each other more. It's getting ridiculous."

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The Sabres kept the lineup the same as in Friday's game. That meant Maxim Afinogenov and Henrik Tallinder were healthy scratches while Mark Mancari and Nathan Paetsch were in the lineup.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com and mharrington@buffnews.com

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