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On Vanek, crazy lines and goalie safety

TORONTO -- Thomas Vanek will play tonight in the Air Canada Centre but the Sabres' leading goal scorer is clearly struggling with whatever lower-body injury he suffered Saturday in Pittsburgh. Vanek had no shots on goal Tuesday in Ottawa (he insisted this morning the stats were wrong), and didn't appear to be going full strength this morning either.

Vanek has skipped the team's last two practices and didn't know how long he would continue to do that.

"We're just looking for big win tonight and I'm just hoping to use these three days and get ready again for the second half," Vanek said.

Vanek said he senses the tension in the Sabres' locker room, especially from some of the young players, as the team tries to snap its two-game losing streak and improve on its 1-3-1 slide.

"Play your game. I understand we're in a little bit of funk,' Vanek said. "Guys care. They care a lot. They want to win. Sometimes when you want it that bad, it goes backwards. It's tough to tell somebody to relax and just play but that's what it comes down to."

Vanek skated this morning with Derer Roy and Jason Pominville. Derek Whitmore was on the second line with Paul Szczechura and Drew Stafford (who had that combo in your pre-Christmas line pools?). The other lines were Adam-Gaustad-Kaleta (making his first appearance since Dec. 2) and McCormick-Ellis-Kassian.

Still, Kassian was on the ice for a long time, working with the likes of Brad Boyes, Tyler Myers and Tyler Ennis, and several of us media types wonder if the Sabres are thinking about scratching him. Marc-Andre Gragnani was off early and could be used as a forward. We'll have to watch the warmup.

One other thing from today -- Lindy Ruff again brought up goaltender safety in the wake of Evander Kane's crash through Al Montoya of the Islanders last night in Winnipeg and Jimmy Howard's drilling last night in Vancouver.

Howard was run over by Jannik Hansen in last night's 4-2 Red Wings loss in Vancouver and was furious about it afterward when he said, "I'm just sick and tired of being run over. It's every single game."

"I turn on TSN this morning and the goalies getting bumped almost falls in that open season category," Ruff said, referring to the phrase he used when Ryan Miller got drilled by Milan Lucic. "... We're in danagerous territory with some of that stuff."

(www.twitter.com/bnharrington)