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Injuries on defense is like '06 all over again

The Buffalo Sabres helped ring in 2012 Saturday night but a look at the team's defense had to have folks around First Niagara Center thinking back to the injury-plagued spring of 2006.

The Sabres took the ice against the Ottawa Senators without three of their major minutes-eaters on defense and don't look for Tyler Myers, Andrej Sekera and Christian Ehrhoff to return any time soon.

Sekera suffered a long-term upper-body injury when drilled from behind Wednesday in New Jersey, Myers' broken wrist is taking longer to heal than the team hoped, and Ehrhoff is believed to have suffered a rib injury during a fight Friday with Washington's Troy Brouwer that will keep him out weeks.

"I've never seen it like this before. I hope I never see it like this again," said coach Lindy Ruff. "These last couple injuries are just bizarre in nature."

T.J. Brennan came up from Rochester for the second time this season to replace Ehrhoff, who was averaging a team-high 23 minutes, 35 seconds per game. Brennan played with Marc-Andre Gragnani on Buffalo's third pair. Robyn Regehr and Mike Weber were the starters, followed by Brayden McNabb and Jordan Leopold.

"It's a shame to see guys get injured obviously, but I just want to help the team as much as possible," Brennan said. "It seems like everyone in Rochester and here in Buff has been fighting injuries all year. It seems to be the problem. You just have to fight through it and hopefully get a couple wins."

Brennan himself suffered a mild concussion when he got drilled here Nov. 26 by Washington's Alex Ovechkin. It wasn't discovered until he returned to Rochester, thus he missed a call-up that instead went to Joe Finley.

Weber, meanwhile, finds himself playing major minutes for the foreseeable future after getting into just three games in the season's first two months.

"The guys in this room are the guys that are going to have to play tonight," Weber said. "If we focus on what we need to do and how simple we can make the game and how easy we can make it for our forwards.

"I feel like I'm skating well, moving well and still bringing that physical edge. It's just fine-tuning parts of my game to make this team successful. It's really knowing my role and being the best shutdown guy I can be."

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The Senators hit town on a high note, posting a 4-1-1 record in their last six games and erasing a 3-0 deficit Friday night to post a 4-3 overtime win over visiting Calgary.

Ottawa won that game on a power-play goal in OT by veteran captain Daniel Alfredsson, who became the 86th player in NHL history to reach 400 career goals. Alfredsson entered Saturday with 41 of those against the Sabres, his highest against any opponent and second to Jaromir Jagr's 42 among active players against Buffalo.

Alfredsson is sixth on the active list in goals. Next to 400 is New Jersey's Ilya Kovalchuk, who scored the 381st of his career on a penalty shot Saturday against Pittsburgh.

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Nathan Gerbe returned to the Buffalo lineup after missing 10 games with a concussion. Rookie Zack Kassian, with no goals and one point in his last 10 games, was a healthy scratch. Kassian was a minus-2 in Friday's 3-1 loss in Washington.

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Friday's loss was Buffalo's fifth straight on the road and the Sabres have scored just eight goals in those games. They're 8-8 on the road this season with just 32 goals in the 16 games. The Sabres are 29th in the NHL in road goals and road average (2.0).

"The road scoring for me is something that's been alarming," Ruff admitted. "The home scoring (3.05 per game entering Saturday) has been a lot better. Some of that may be based on the fact I get my matchups with my lines, but we're going to have to work around that. We've been a better road team than that."

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Gerbe and the injured Myers, Tyler Ennis and Corey Troop were the only players who skated in the morning. The Sabres played on New Year's Eve for the first time since a 7-1 win over Washington in 2003, a game that featured hat tricks by Maxim Afinogenov and Miroslav Satan. They played 19 straight on Dec. 31 from 1978 to '1997. Edmonton's visit Tuesday will be the Oilers' first since a 3-1 Sabres win on Nov. 11, 2009.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com