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|25 февраля 2004
Kalinin's learning curve on fast track - Buffalo News
By JOHN VOGL
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - It was a scenario that not long ago occurred almost weekly. The Buffalo Sabres would do a drill during practice, and halfway through it the sound of coach Lindy Ruff's whistle would pierce the air.
"Dmitri," Ruff would yell, "you have to do this and this, not that."
Sabres defenseman Dmitri Kalinin would tilt back his head and shift his eyes skyward, then he'd bend over and stare at the ice over which he was gliding. But Ruff's instruction did not go unheeded.
It has become apparent that Kalinin filed away the coach's words and learned from them, which is a big reason the defenseman has become one of the Sabres' better players heading into tonight's road game against the New Jersey Devils.
"Dmitri has played very good hockey," Ruff said Tuesday after practice. "He has really found a groove."
Kalinin, however, doesn't want to hear accolades. Although the shouting has subsided, he feels his development is far from finished.
"There's some improvements to do," the 23-year-old said. "I need to get defensively a little bit better, play maybe a little harder. It's not always perfect, but you try and you try, and sometimes you get rewarded.
"It's never enough. You have to keep going, keep going, never stop. I just want to be the best player you can be, the whole season long, all the time."
Kalinin has points in three of the last five games, including the Sabres' lone goal in Saturday's 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders. With six goals and 18 assists, he already has surpassed his career high of 22 points. He's also protected the defensive zone adequately, especially during February. He has a plus-2 rating this month (moving his total to plus-1), and he hasn't been a minus since the Feb. 5 loss to Boston.
It's something the Sabres have expected since Kalinin arrived at the end of the 1999-2000 season.
"He's played well over 200 games. He's not a prospect anymore," defense partner Alexei Zhitnik said. "He's 23 years old right now, and for defensemen that's prime time."
Zhitnik, 31, is renowned for his durability. He often ranks among the league's best in ice time and is averaging 25:33 this season. Kalinin has been keeping up lately, and he even topped him last Wednesday against Florida, 27:45 to 27:18.
"(Zhitnik) can play as many minutes as he wants and doesn't look tired. It looks easy for him, but it's not easy for me," Kalinin said with a laugh.
No player has benefited more from Ruff's willingness to let defensemen join the offensive play. Kalinin often can been seen pinching from the blue line or becoming the extra attacker on a three-on-two, and after a sluggish start he's on pace to match last season's goal total of eight.
"The last couple years, the coach went from defensive (minded) players to joining the rush all the times that you can make offensive plays, and that's what I'm trying to do right now," Kalinin said.
The soft-spoken Russian also is trying to talk more. The alternate captain is not going to hold court for a posse of cameras, but his English is markedly improved from just last year.
"Right now I can speak a little bit better. That's the main thing. That's
probably the most important thing, English," Kalinin said. "You just pick
up. I didn't take any lessons. It's like a baby growing up. Learning, it