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Weber bursting to reclaim lineup spot

Mike Weber knows he's got the talent to play for the Buffalo Sabres. So far, he hasn't, sitting out the opening nine games.

When he finally gets the chance, watch out.

"I have to trust the coaching staff and know they're trying to do what it takes to win right now and that I'll get my chance," Weber said Thursday. "And when I get my chance, I'll do the same thing I did last year."

What happened last year was he became a rock on defense and an immovable object in the lineup. The Sabres scratched him for the first month, then he played 58 regular-season games and all seven playoff outings.

He's caught in a numbers game this year. The Sabres have seven defensemen, and only six can start. He was again No. 7 during a 4-2 victory over Columbus in First Niagara Center.

"Of course there's frustration building," Weber said. "I want to play. Sitting out is not easy. It's a tough situation when you have the caliber of defense that we have. There's seven of us, and every one of us is a top-six or top-four guy."

Coach Lindy Ruff is pleased the defenseman is agitated to be sitting. After all, who would want a player who likes getting scratched?

"Not [taking it] very well, and no player should," Ruff said. "He was a good part of our team last year. It's a tough situation. There's some things that I'm still trying to make up my mind on, the importance of certain individuals and whether we should rotate a couple of individuals. Short term, he's the guy that's taking the bullet."

Weber essentially lost his spot to rookie Marc-Andre Gragnani. He's a puck-moving, power-play specialist, in contrast to Weber's stay-at-home style. Gragnani entered Thursday's game with three assists and a plus-5 rating, but the power play was in a 1-for-17 slump before going 2 for 3 Thursday.

"We feel we have a certain need for who's in the lineup and just evaluating whether that still has to be a big part of our team," Ruff said.

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It would have been one thing if the Blue Jackets were expected to be terrible. But after acquiring big-name players and spending big-time bucks, they figured they would be a playoff team.

An 0-7-1 start to the season, therefore, sure came as a shock.

"It was a tough three weeks," alternate captain R.J. Umberger said before Thursday's game. "I don't think anybody really knows what we were going through in here, just fighting every day the negativity that builds up. It's hard because you have high expectations and you're battling hard and you're practicing hard, and you're just not winning games. It's not much fun."

Columbus finally earned a victory Tuesday, a 4-1 defeat of Detroit that loosened the Jackets.

"We feel this is a good team," Umberger said. "We feel there's a lot of good talent here. Our expectations were high. Sometimes you get new faces, it takes time to get your team game going."

The Blue Jackets added defenseman James Wisniewski, who helped lead the team to its win over Detroit after missing eight games with a suspension, and center Jeff Carter, who missed Thursday's outing with a foot injury. They have the fifth-highest payroll in the league at $64.2 million, according to CapGeek.com.

"We can't change the first eight games, but we will stand and fight starting tonight," General Manager Scott Howson wrote on the team's website prior to the Detroit game.

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As part of the Hockey Fights Cancer program, Roswell Park Cancer Institute is teaming with the Sabres for two fundraisers. Fans can text "CURE" to 501501 to make a $5 donation to Roswell, with funds used locally for cancer research and patient programs. In addition, Ryan Miller "sockey" caps are being sold on Roswell's website, www.roswellpark.org.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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