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Everybody Partner Up

Wednesday, 11.08.2006 / 12:00 AM / News
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Everybody Partner Up

November 8, 2006
By Brian Wheeler

The Buffalo Sabres defensive corps were about as set in stone at the beginning of the season as could be expected. Night in and night out through the first nine games, the pairings never changed.

Then the injury bug decided to take a bite out of Buffalo's defense and more specifically Henrik Tallinder's arm, and the game of musical chairs on the blueline began. Ask any player and they'll tell you there are subtle adjustments you have to make when changing partners. But according to most, that switch is made even easier when you're playing for Buffalo.

"On this team you don't have to change much because all six defensemen are kind of similar," said Jaroslav Spacek. "There isn't a big difference in playing styles. Every player is different, but we all play the same system here, so it makes it easier to switch."

Some teams around the league adapt different defensive systems according to the personnel within each pairing. If clubs have less mobile or a "stay-at-home" type of defensemen, they may employ a less aggressive system when that defenseman is on the ice.

Line Buffalo's defense up for a side-by-side comparison and you'll discover common trails among the group. Each is fast skating. Each is a good puck mover. Each enjoys jumping into the offensive zone on the rush.

The Sabres defensive system is universal because it's players are interchangeable.

"Everyone knows the system and how we want to play in our own end," said Brian Campbell, who began the season with Spacek but is now paired with rookie Nathan Paetsch. "We adapt fairly well because everyone is fairly skilled.

"We don't have the big guy who is the pounder out there or plays that type of style. We basically have a group of guys that can handle the puck and make good outlet passes. That's a big thing to give a good outlet to your partner. It helps relieve a lot of pressure and gets us out of a lot of trouble."

The only pairing that has remained constant since opening night has been the combination of Teppo Numminen and Dmitri Kalinin. Spacek replaced Tallinder on Buffalo's top pairing with Toni Lydman, while Campbell and Paetsch make-up Buffalo's final pair.

The major change for Spacek hasn't been Lydman's style of play, but the added ice time he has been forced to take. In the last three games, the Sabres lone offseason acquisition leads the team with an average of 24 minutes of playing time per game.

"I've been playing more now that Henrik is out because I have to start playing on the penalty kill," Spacek said. "It's more an adjustment to playing in that situation."

Joked Lydman: "I'm not sure what the biggest difference would be [between Spacek and Tallinder]. I guess ... they look a little different and Hank has a longer stick."

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