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Miller laments the loss of Gaustad

Ryan Miller laughs when people assume he has a lot of pull inside the Sabres' organization. The goaltender is the face of the franchise, but he's always insisted he's just another player who is not involved in anything but playing hockey.

He added concrete proof to back him up this week. He's not happy about it.

The Sabres visit the Anaheim Ducks tonight without Paul Gaustad as a member of the organization for the first time in a decade. Miller has been Gaustad's teammate for all 10 seasons. They were housemates during their first full year in Buffalo. They traveled through Europe together.

They'll still talk, but it won't be in the dressing room. The Sabres traded Gaustad to Nashville on Monday, depriving Miller of a person he liked on and off the ice.

"It was a pretty tough day," Miller said Tuesday. "I'm not going to lie. I'm not real happy about the way it all turned out, but that's the business of hockey.

"Like I've said, we don't make those decisions. That's more proof because if I had any more influence Paul would still be here. I appreciate the way he plays. He's been one of my best friends for a long time there. Obviously, that's going to continue, but it was nice to have him as a teammate and have those other intangibles.

"No matter the way you view hockey, you have to understand how important players like Paul can be and how long it takes to develop a guy that plays that way at such a high level. Winning those faceoffs is not easy. Killing those penalties is not easy. Not a lot of guys are willing to do that job every night, and he was."

The Sabres worked Gaustad's situation to their advantage. They are in 12th place with 20 games to go. The center is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. To get a first-round pick in this year's draft for Gaustad and a fourth-round selection in 2013 was a rich transaction.

"That's not an easy day for anybody," coach Lindy Ruff said. "Some of it is frustration. Some of it is just understanding that when we dealt with the injuries we dealt with, we got too far behind. We're in a situation where a lot of teams do what we're doing.

"[Gaustad] understands where he's at in his career, and he understands where we're at as a team. We put ourselves there, and now we've got to dig ourselves out."

The departure of Gaustad will impact the Sabres in several areas. He was their prime faceoff man and penalty killer. New acquisition Cody Hodgson will debut tonight and take Gaustad's spot as a center on one of the forward lines, but Ruff will use trial and error to determine who gets the specialty ice time.

"I look at it this way: We've got some guys that have some left. They need to empty the tank for us," Ruff said. "We need [Drew Stafford] producing. We need a better show out of our top forwards on the road to use these games in hand to climb right back into the picture.

"I told the team that there's some guys that are going to get a bigger role, some guys will get different roles. We've got a guy that left that was our top penalty-killer, top faceoff guy in tough situations, and he was a guy that played the last minute of games. Players are usually begging for those responsibilities, and I want to see who's going to come through."

Ruff said Derek Roy will take the final-minute duties. The coach expects Stafford, Nathan Gerbe and Ville Leino to have an increased role on the penalty kill, which entered Tuesday's games tied for 21st in the NHL.

"It's going to be my job to step up," said forward Patrick Kaleta, who was Gaustad's partner on the first unit. "Whoever I get paired together with will try to do the same thing me and Gaus did."

The trial and error needs to come together quickly. The Sabres play Anaheim tonight and visit San Jose on Thursday, the start of six games in nine nights. Miller hopes his team can overcome the loss of his friend as the season heats up and winds down.

"Like I said, he does the things that are not easy to do every night," Miller said. "It's just too important for a hockey team, and it is a little frustrating in that regard.

"You have to do your best with the team you have in the locker room. That's your goal. That's your mission. You have to accept that because it's never going to be any different. We'll get these guys to a good place. We've got a lot of hockey to play here. We feel like we have a chance to do something here. It revolves around winning hockey games. That's not going to be about moping around because Paul's not here. It's about pushing forward."

email: jvogl@buffnews.com