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Ruff, Miller, Rivet reject critics

Are the Buffalo Sabres doing enough to protect their goaltenders? It's certainly a hot-button issue in the wake of Ryan Miller's injury Saturday night.

Coach Lindy Ruff bristled at the notion his team has been lax in that area following practice Monday, even though it's been a growing topic of discussion since the Ottawa Senators kept bumping Miller here during Buffalo's Jan. 6 win.

Ruff cut off a question on the topic and then seemed to backtrack from his postgame assertion Saturday that the New York Rangers' Scott Gomez's contact on Miller was deliberate. There had been no incidents in the first two periods.

"Gomez's intent was to make sure Ryan didn't scramble back to the net right away," Ruff said. "There was no intent to injure Ryan on the play. The injury was a result of the play. Did we get around their goaltender a couple times and bump him? I think we did too. But we can't make a mountain out of a molehill.

"I'm mad that we lost our starting goaltender. I'm a lot more mad at the situations in the Ottawa [games] we played here than anything that happened in this game. And I'll leave it at that. You can write whatever you want."

Ruff, who had been speaking to the media for nearly eight minutes, then ended his press conference and left the room. Miller didn't want any part of the issue either.

"That's part of hockey," Miller said. "I think Lindy has commented on that and I don't think I want to step into that one."

The Sabres have been getting hammered on blogs and Internet message boards for not protecting Miller more. Much of the Web chatter has also centered around a column in Sunday's Buffalo News by Jerry Sullivan that criticized the team for its soft play.

"This was an incident you don't want to see happen but I think we've done a pretty good job most of the year [protecting Miller]," said captain Craig Rivet. "I'm not real concerned. Obviously I think the most concerned person is Jerry Sullivan. He seems to be the most concerned about this but the guys are aware of it.

"We think we've done a pretty solid job for the most part. There's going to be bumps and contact in this game and you need to be prepared for it but we feel like we've done a solid job."

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Leading goal scorer Thomas Vanek returned to the ice Monday, skating with the team for the first time since suffering a fractured jaw Feb. 7 in Ottawa.

Vanek wore a full face shield and took part in the entire 55-minute workout. Although Vanek has not been cleared for any contact and is still probably two to three weeks away from returning to action, he skated hard and looked better than expected given the severity of his injury.

Vanek was unavailable to comment on his workout. His jaw remains wired and team officials said it is still difficult for him to speak.

"I thought he did pretty good," Ruff said. "For the first day out, I was surprised at how well he moved. Right now he's in a no-contact category where he can't have any jarring or hitting but I really think [skating Monday] was on the timetable trying to push that three- to four-week area."

"For his first time skating it was pretty impressive," Rivet said. "It looks like he hasn't missed any time at all. It's good for the guys to see him on the ice and I'm sure it's great for him."

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Anaheim is 1-1 on its six-game road trip, a see-the-USA tour that's the Ducks' longest of the season. They opened it with a 5-2 loss Friday in Detroit but rebounded with a 5-2 win Saturday in Columbus.

After tonight's game, the Ducks move on to Boston, Dallas and Chicago.

Williamsville native Todd Marchant has two goals and seven assists in 51 games for the Ducks and returned earlier this month after missing three weeks due to a broken pinkie.

Marchant is one of nine unrestricted free agents on the Anaheim roster and the Ducks could become sellers at the trade deadline if they continue to flounder in the standings. Stanley Cup champions just two years ago, they enter tonight's game tied for ninth in the Western Conference.

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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