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Morrisonn takes step toward return

Shaone Morrisonn's trek back from a concussion took a small step forward Friday. The defenseman skated with his Buffalo Sabres teammates in the morning, though he missed his fifth straight game at night when the Sabres visited the Florida Panthers.

"It's good to get out and get a sweat," Morrisonn said in BankAtlantic Center. "With concussions, it's kind of a process with the way you've got to come back and stuff, but I feel like I'm making progress. Not as quick as I want to be, but it's something you can't judge."

Morrisonn suffered the concussion on an illegal blow to head by Columbus' Jared Boll on Dec. 3. Morrisonn played the next night in Ottawa but lasted just six and a half minutes before taking a seat. He was shut down from all physical activity last week.

Morrisonn missed eight games with a concussion last season with Washington. That one occurred when he struck his chin on an opponent's helmet while delivering a check.

"Sometimes it's bad luck, but you can live with those ones," Morrisonn said. "It's the ones that you can't avoid that are a little bit tougher."

The Sabres' blue line remained the same against the Panthers, with Craig Rivet sitting for the 10th straight game. The captain continues to skate long after his teammates have ended their practice sessions.

"He looks a lot better," coach Lindy Ruff said. "He looks quicker, and I think that part has been very important. He's been trying to work extremely hard. He knows that when the chance arrives he's going to have to step in and play well."

Chris Butler played his sixth straight game. He entered the night with three assists and an even rating in 18 games.

"There's been times when he's played really well," Ruff said. "I'm still a little concerned with a little bit of the relationship and communication between him and his partner. There's been times when they get stuck in their zone where I think with a little bit better communication and reading off of each other, maybe a little bit stronger physical play that we'd be out of the zone soon."

Butler's partner Friday was Mike Weber, who skated for the 10th straight game after sitting for 20 of 22. Weber entered the night with no points and an even rating.

"I said when he was going to go in he was going to go in for a good look," Ruff said. "It takes a period of time to settle in. You know you're going to have to live with some mistakes, but the hope there is that that player improves, that he gains confidence, that he feels good about his game. You don't do that by stepping in and playing one or two games, having a poor game and maybe having to come out of the lineup."

Said Weber: "I take it one game at a time, and that's still how I'm taking it, making sure I'm doing the little things right and competing and battling consistently."

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The Sabres headed north from South Florida following the game and will visit the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum. Ryan Miller is in line for his tenth straight start, and would have been even if he hadn't gotten pulled after one period Friday.

Miller has played every game since Nov. 26. He missed eight of the 12 contests prior to that date with hip and groin injuries.

"Ryan had a big break," Ruff said. "Our schedule's been conducive to where we've had our days off. We've had good practice days, so we're just going to read where Ryan's at in his game. But for the most part our schedule has been pretty light."

Backup Patrick Lalime has played just once since Nov. 6.

The Lightning will start goalie Mike Smith, though word in Tampa Bay has Smith and crease mate Dan Ellis possibly giving way to Evgeni Nabokov. The former San Jose netminder was released from his contract in Russia this week.

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Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman admitted he had an informational chat with Nabokov's agent.

"All I can say is every day I'm looking at opportunities that may present themselves to improve the team, and if any opportunity at any position improves the team, I would have to consider it," Yzerman told Tampa reporters Wednesday. "I'm not today prepared to make a change in goal. The best scenario will be for our guys, who are working extremely hard, to elevate their play and it's no longer an issue."

Smith is 9-5 but has a 3.36 goals-against average and .879 save percentage. Ellis is 8-5 with a 3.23 GAA and .876 save percentage.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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