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Gerbe finds his groove around the net

Center Paul Gaustad welcomed Nathan Gerbe to his line this week with simple advice: shoot.

"I told him he's not a passer," Gaustad said Friday. "He's more of a shooter. He's been shooting it more, which is good."

The rest of the Buffalo Sabres would certainly agree. Gerbe's shot attempts have produced goals in the past two games. The left winger scored Thursday in a victory over Carolina, and his blast that went wide Tuesday against Philadelphia was rebounded home by linemate Cody McCormick.

It's a run Gerbe and his mates would like to continue tonight against the New York Islanders.

"Our line's played really well, and hopefully we can continue that and keep clicking," Gerbe said after practice in Northtown Center in Amherst. "It's just our work ethic, pounding pucks down low and getting next to the net. That's the most important thing, and that's what makes our line go."

Gerbe, Gaustad and McCormick have combined for four goals and three assists in their two games together. Coach Lindy Ruff rewarded them with more even-strength time than any other forward line Thursday, skating them more than 15 minutes each during the 3-2 victory.

"They were our best line," Ruff said. "When a line has a little bit of chemistry or keeps it going, they feel good about themselves. They're feeding off each other. They're showing up in the score sheet."

Gerbe was overdue to show up there. He was a scoring machine in college and his first year in the minors, but this season's been a struggle. It took him 21 games to find the net. He was benched for four before getting a chance Tuesday, and he's making the most of it.

"It's always a good feeling," he said. "It's always a bonus, and it's good that some work pays off. You've just got to keep working and keep doing the things every day and hopefully you can continue to get better.

"We've got some missing players, and guys need to step up. You just want everyone to contribute, and hopefully we can keep doing that."

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The Sabres were short-handed upfront at Friday's practice, with right wings Drew Stafford and Patrick Kaleta absent. Stafford was resting injuries, while Kaleta missed with the flu.

"Drew is just nursing a couple of ailments," Ruff said. "In all likelihood, he's should be good for [tonight].

"[Kaleta] came in, had the flu and we got him out of here. We're probably not even going to take him to [Long Island]."

Kaleta would not have played against the Isles anyway because of his broken left hand.

* * *

The Sabres have played in front of small crowds this season -- most notably in Atlanta, New Jersey, Dallas and Florida -- and they can expect another intimate gathering tonight. The Islanders rank last in the NHL in average attendance, drawing only 9,842 fans to the Coliseum. New Yorkers are filling the decrepit arena to just 60.4 percent capacity.

"There's a lot of history in that building. It makes it fun that way," said Sabres defenseman Steve Montador, referring to the Isles' run of four championships in the early 1980s. "On the road you're creating your own energy anyway."

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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