Rambler's Top100

3 2007 . 
Afinogenov breaks through for Sabres // Buffalo News

Winger has strung seven solid games
By Mike Harrington

Maxim Afinogenovs reaction said it all. Wide smile. Pumping right fist. Leaping half-twist into the end glass. Two more fist pumps.

The fourth goal in an 8-1 victory normally doesnt prompt so much celebration or postgame chatter. But when its your first tally in 13 games and youre expected to be one of your teams main offensive weapons, then it becomes a totally different story.

It was definitely a relief, Afinogenov said of Saturdays second-period tally in the Buffalo Sabres destruction of the Carolina Hurricanes. I was happy. I got some chances but all the time a guy would make the save, or I would miss the net, hit a post or whatever. Today I scored and I got my feelings turned around a little.

It was a classic Afinogenov solo dash. He took a pass from Brian Campbell at his own blue line and burst down the left wing. His slap shot, which may have ticked defenseman Bret Hedicans stick, rocketed off the post before nestling behind Canes goaltender John Grahame with 3:32 left in the second period.

It was just Afinogenovs fourth goal of the year and first since the Nov. 1 overtime loss at Boston. MSG analyst Harry Neale summed up what everybody in HSBC Arena clearly felt as Afinogenov was congratulated by his teammates: Thats an awful piano off his back.

I think its important because you can see the frustration, added coach Lindy Ruff. I thought [Saturday] was maybe his best skating night where he really seemed like he had a lot of jump.

The streak without a goal was Afinogenovs longest since a 17-gamer early in the 2005-06 season.

Ive been getting some chances but the puck finally went in today, Afinogenov said. Hopefully it will turn around for me. Ive just battled through my bad times and hopefully theyre finished.

Im just going to keep working in practices and games and things will pay off. Im trying to play hard and sometimes its not gone my way. Hopefully now things will turn around for me.

The mere fact Afinogenov got a goal wasnt the reason his play was being lauded around the locker room.

Afinogenov was plus-3 in the game for just the second time this season and it continued a string of improved two-way performances. Hes plus-5 over the last seven games and hasnt been a minus player in any of them.

Thats a far cry from the previous 13 outings, when Afinogenov was minus-14 and slipped to minus-10 overall worst among NHL forwards. The cries of trade him or at least ship him to the press box for a night were growing and growing.

But Afinogenov has been doing video work with Ruff on his defensive responsibilities and is becoming more aggressive in the offensive end as well. He single-handedly set up Jaroslav Spaceks power-play goal Saturday by first outmuscling Niclas Wallin to the puck along the boards and then feeding Spacek in the slot.

He was great, said linemate Paul Gaustad. I talked to him during the pregame skate and he said I feel good, I think it will be a good night for us. Hes been playing really well and I think that goal was huge for him. Hopefully it just continues.

No question Saturdays goal has to be a mere starting point because Afinogenovs overall stats (four goals in 24 games and a minus- 5 overall rating) are still pretty brutal. Not what you expect from your longest-tenured forward and one with your second-highest salary ($3.5 million). Especially after a 23- goal season that saw him finish at plus-19.

I know I can score. I know I can play, Afinogenov said. Ive showed that before. I just have to keep working. Its a plus to get a goal and things will be better right now. . . . It has been tough, especially when the team is losing. Now weve picked it up the last few games and its kind of a relief for me as well. 

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