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Connolly returning, front and center<br> Nose surgery behind him, Sabre going on offensive

Tim Connolly heard the cartilage crack. He saw the funky angle. The Buffalo Sabres' center knew he had a broken nose, but since he finished the game after getting his snout bounced off the boards, he figured it wasn't too bad.

A CT scan showed otherwise.

"There were nine fractures in the nose, so they had to kind of piece it back together," Connolly said Thursday. "They used some type of jelly mold to basically reconstruct it."

The surgery was a success, and Connolly will return to the lineup Saturday against Boston after a four-game absence. With the cartilage back together, make no bones about it: Connolly will be relied upon heavily to sniff out significant offense.

He is the unquestioned No. 1 middle man with Derek Roy lost for the season after quad surgery this week. The Sabres will need Connolly to produce points.

"He's going to have to, if you look at it," coach Lindy Ruff said after practice in Northtown Center in Amherst. "They're our two most creative offensive players [Roy and Connolly], and when you're looking for production you've got to look to those guys first."

It's no surprise, then, that Ruff has inserted Connolly on the top line with goal-scoring leader Thomas Vanek and promising rookie Luke Adam. Connolly also is expected to assume Roy's spot at the point on the power play.

"It'll give us some help on our power play," Ruff said. "It'll give us one more guy who's a little bit more creative in the middle. Hopefully, if we can play him with Van it can help create a few more opportunities."

Connolly has six goals and 14 points in 25 games. He has played just three of the last 15 after suffering a groin pull in late November and the broken nose Dec. 18 in Tampa Bay.

"Everybody else, along with myself, is going to have to pick it up and chip in and do what we can to score some goals out there, get the power play going and create some offense," Connolly said.

The Sabres say it will take a full team effort to overcome the loss of Roy, who was the top point-producer on a squad that ranks tied for 20th in scoring. There's no doubt Connolly will be looked upon more than most players. He received a two-year, $9 million contract extension two seasons ago because of his offensive potential, and the Sabres need it to manifest itself.

"You need depth of scoring, but I still think we can point to our best offensive players as the guys that night after night are going to have to get it done for us," Ruff said.

The Connolly-Vanek combination will need to mesh quickly. Vanek is pointless in his last seven games. The duo skated together for five games in November 2009, with Vanek recording a goal and four assists and Connolly chipping in three helpers.

"Hopefully, we can click right away and get another line going here," said Vanek, who has 13 goals but none since Dec. 9. "I feel like I always need to perform better, especially now."

Connolly and Adam are expected to split center and left wing duties. Ruff said he hasn't liked the Sabres' work along the boards recently, so he plans to occasionally shift the 6-foot-2, 203-pound Adam from the middle. Connolly says his plan is simple no matter where he's stationed.

"With those two guys out there, I think my focus is going to be to get the puck to the net for them and let them battle in front," he said.

Connolly will wear a full face shield for the foreseeable future. His nose was rearranged when Tampa's Nate Thompson checked him during a race for a puck, with Connolly's face hitting the boards on the first contact and then bouncing off again as Thompson's hip struck the back of Connolly's head while he was falling.

"My nose crunched on the corner of the dasher boards," Connolly said. "It was kind of on the other side of my face, and they popped it back in. I'm just happy that it's over with."

In other injury news, the Sabres will host the Bruins in HSBC Arena without Patrick Kaleta. The right winger suffered a left wrist injury while blocking a shot by Edmonton's Jeff Petry late in Tuesday's 4-2 victory. He is out for a "short period," Ruff said. Defenseman Tyler Myers, who missed the past two games due to illness, is expected to return.

"He's feeling better," Ruff said. "First day back at practice, I thought he did pretty well."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com