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Gunning for discipline and goals; Penalty woes aside, Ruff still expects his top scorers to produce

The Buffalo Sabres haven't gotten nearly enough offense from their forwards in the first two games of their playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers, which shifts to HSBC Arena tonight for Game Three.

And there's a big reason for it that's easy to pinpoint: The top scorers simply haven't been on the ice enough because the Sabres can't stay out of the penalty box.

The Sabres have been nailed with 18 minor penalties and played short-handed for an incredible total of 25 minutes, 11 seconds thus far. And while Jason Pominville and Tim Connolly are among the team's prominent penalty killers, several other marquee forwards are not.

Look at what happened to ice time during the Flyers' 5-4 win in Game Two. Thomas Vanek played 16:48 -- including a scant 9:19 over the first two periods. Drew Stafford was at 16:44, Brad Boyes 12:03, Tyler Ennis 10:21 and Nathan Gerbe just 6:30.

"Obviously, you want to play but that's the way the game goes," Vanek said after Sunday's optional skate in the arena. "You've got to stay sharp. When you do get your time, you've got to make the most of it."

Vanek did that Saturday with a pair of first-period power-play goals. But he wasn't much of a factor after that because linemates Connolly and Pominville were busy combining for more than 12 minutes killing penalties.

Vanek averaged 17:21 during the regular season and was over 18 minutes eight times since March 5. In this series, he's averaging just 15:08.

"For the guys that aren't killing penalties or aren't on the power play, it is hard," said Stafford, who has nine shots but has yet to score. "I know from experience of sitting six or seven minutes sometimes and you're expected to go out and give it 100 percent. You're flying around after sitting around for so much. It's a challenge but this time of year you have to make sure you're doing everything you can to stay focused."

The Sabres spent a lot of time the last two days talking about their aggression and it's true they have been the more physical team in the series much of the time. But they've played with less intelligence, too.

Their fouls Saturday included three tripping penalties, two interference whistles and a too many men on the ice infraction.

The Sabres have been fortunate all their penalty troubles haven't proven more costly. The Flyers are just 1 for 15 on the power play thus far and have come up dry on a trio of two-man advantages.

"Eleven minors is way too many," said defenseman Chris Butler. "It takes guys out of the flow. You have a guy like Thomas Vanek sitting on the bench for that long. [Gerbe] doesn't play a lot in the second period. A lot of our offensive players don't get a chance to get in the flow and get in a nice rhythm when we need them to be. So team discipline is going to be a key."

"You've just got to be ready when you do get a chance," said Gerbe, who played just 70 seconds in the middle period. "It's not the most ideal situation, but as a player you've got to be mentally sharp and ready for your opportunity to get out there and do something."

For his part, coach Lindy Ruff isn't going to let his players fall back on the penalties as any sort of crutch for a lack of production.

"It's not a time of year for excuses," said Ruff. "I need every guy when they go on the ice to not have an excuse for not being involved. I don't care if you sit there for four minutes, five minutes.

"It's go out there, be ready, stand on the bench and do jumping jacks if you have to because you know the next shift might be the most important shift of the series. Let's throw all the excuses in the trash can and just say, 'Man this next shift I'm going to be the difference maker.' "

Ennis, a 20-goal man during the regular season, has been blanked on just three shots in the two games. The line of Ennis, Boyes and Stafford has just one point, a power-play assist by Stafford, and has easily been Buffalo's most ineffective.

"Special teams are obviously huge but at the same time you want your chemistry and you want your lines going," Stafford said. "You want to get back to rolling four lines and keeping the attack going."

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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