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Rambler's Top100

26 2008 . 
Max spreads his wings // Buffalo News

By John Vogl  

DENVER Maxim Afinogenov thought amnesia had struck the Buffalo Sabres coaching staff. He looked at the lineup sheet, saw he was listed at left wing, and figured somebody behind the bench must have taken a shot to the noggin.

After all, the 29-year-old has been playing right wing for only about 25 years.

I thought maybe he forgot Im right side, Afinogenov said. I made sure to ask [assistant coach] James [Patrick], You guys remember Im right? But its working pretty well right now.

The unexpected move across the ice has indeed had a few good moments for Afinogenov and his line-mates. Afinogenov, center Adam Mair and right wing Ales Kotalik had their best game of the season Thursday against Minnesota. The line combined for one goal, one assist, six shots and five hits.

They were hoping to improve Saturday night against Colorado.

That line has given us some timely goals when weve needed them, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. Obviously, its something we need. We need good defensive play out of that line, but we need production.

Kotalik entered the game against the Avalanche second on the Sabres with four goals and seven points. Afinogenovs five assists were tops on the team.

A small part of the production can be credited to the wing switch. Kotalik and Afinogenov both prefer playing right wing, but Kotalik was given the spot because of a simple reason: He was playing better. Kotalik was the Sabres fifth-leading scorer last season, while Afinogenov was 12th.

Al had been going so good on the right, and Max hadnt been going that good on the right, so the easy decision was . . ., Ruff said.

The coach pleaded his case that it usually doesnt matter which side a player is on. He said the only time it impacts anything is when the players break out of their own zone. But Afinogenov has been playing the right wing so long, there definitely were adjustments that had to be made.

Its a difference, but Im used to that already. I pretty much know what Im doing there now, Afinogenov said. When youre in the offensive zone its little different moves that youve got to make, when you go to the net and stuff.

Getting to the net is the lines most important job, according to Mair. They are able to do it when they play a simple style, which is one thing the flashy Afinogenov has had trouble with in the past.

Max has been real good, Mair said. He was able to utilize Al and myself with little give-and-go plays through the neutral zone that created some space and allowed him to move his feet and not have to beat too many guys by himself.

And as a surprise to even himself, Afinogenov did all the work while playing left wing.

If the team is winning its probably good, he said of the switch. Youve got to help the team sometimes. Its working right now.

jvogl@buffnews.com

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