Lindy Ruff took the rare step of dressing seven defensemen for Friday night's game but it was actually a just-in-case maneuver if Jaroslav Spacek was dogged by his hip problem.
Nathan Paetsch thus got the call but saw action for the first time this season at forward, playing with Adam Mair and Matt Ellis. As it turned out, the fourth line was the best line in Buffalo's 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
Ellis and Paetsch, who got the call while Daniel Paille was a healthy scratch, combined for six shots on goal. And Mair's nifty backhand pass set up Paetsch for the goal that gave Buffalo the lead for good with 7:44 left in the second period.
"The Ellis line may have been far and away our best line for playing, creating, getting pucks deep and doing the right things," Ruff said.
"I was excited to get that chance and as long as I'm in the lineup I'm happy," Paetsch said. "Elli' [Ellis] and Mair had great games. They were really flying."
The key play came as Ellis got the puck to Mair, who worked it down low to the left of Montreal goalie Carey Price. Mair then flipped a neat backhand pass to Paetsch in the slot and Paetsch made no mistake with a quick one-timer over Price's left shoulder.
"I was yelling for [the puck]," Paetsch said. "They were a little loose in the slot so it gave me a little space to get the shot off."
"We were pretty vocal on the ice, which is nice," Mair said. "A lot of times that goes unnoticed, the way guys talk on the ice but it's definitely something you need to do. . . . Nathan provides really good jump. He's quick on the puck and one of our fastest skaters and he was able to get in on a lot of pucks."
The goal was Paetsch's second of the season -- and both have come in the last six games. Paetsch scored his first in the Jan. 27 rout of Edmonton.
"I thought he played very well and scored a goal," said Ruff, wryly setting up his punchline. "Obviously the goal scoring is a bonus -- and he may never see defense again."
The goal was also retribution for Mair, who was in the penalty box after a tripping call when Montreal had forged a 1-1 tie at 10:21 on Saku Koivu's goal.
"We were pretty effective as a line following a game plan getting pucks deep and working their defense," Mair said. "It felt good to come back and be part of regaining the lead."
Just as Jochen Hecht returned to the Sabres' lineup, Buffalo lost another forward as Paul Gaustad is now sidelined with a mild shoulder separation. Ruff said Gaustad would be out indefinitely after getting injured on the final shift of Wednesday's 5-0 blanking of Toronto.
"We can start [pinpointing a return] probably in a couple weeks," Ruff said after the morning skate. "Hopefully it will be around that period. We get Jochen back and obviously we need somebody to fill that hole."
The Sabres took off right after the game for Ottawa, where they'll make their first of three trips to Scotiabank Place tonight.
The Senators have been mired near the bottom of the Eastern Conference most of the season and fired coach Craig Hartsburg on Sunday. Cory Clouston was promoted from Binghamton of the AHL and has lost his first two games.
There's going to be no playoffs in Ottawa for the first time since 1996 and the Senators are expected to be major players at next month's trade deadline, with perhaps only veteran Daniel Alfredsson labeled as untouchable. Agitator Chris Neil might be one of the most attractive targets.
"Not everybody is available. I can't say that," GM Bryan Murray told the Ottawa Sun. "I'm really open-minded with a lot of players, but not everybody."