Two months. That's how long it had been since Maxim Afinogenov hit the ice for the Buffalo Sabres. Out since Jan. 3, 2009 with a groin injury, he has been in a jam offensively since last season.
In the two years following the lockout, Afinogenov totaled 134 points in 133 games, but since then, managed only 41 points in 91 games. There's no denying the talent he possesses—however, the 29-year-old has just appeared lost at times on the ice.
Head coach Lindy Ruff didn't hide his feelings, and scratched the Russian on a number of occasions before his injury in early January. With the trade deadline looming, it was an easy assumption to suspect that the life-long Sabre would be moved elsewhere.
Therein was a problem, and that was whether or not a team would believe the speedy forward just needed a change of scenery to find himself. Afinogenov expressed his wishes to stay in Buffalo, although only if he was competing.
In the end, Afinogenov didn't go anywhere, and made his return to the lineup Wednesday as the Sabres hosted the Montreal Canadiens.
To impress Ruff, Afinogenov would have to play basic hockey. Back-checking and not giving the puck away would ultimately be his goal. Unattractive it may be—at the same time, it was necessary.
Simple, and effective.
He was no longer the man who could dangle like Pavel Bure. Instead, he would be forced to start from scratch to perhaps one day recapture that attribute.
Afinogenov played a superb game against the Canadiens by passing the puck, skating hard on the back-check, creating opportunities, and even chipping in with a power-play assist.
Ruff had to have liked what he saw, and for the first time in months we saw glimpses of the impeccable Afinogenov who dazzled the crowd on so many occasions.
It may take some time for him to regain his complete confidence, but he has taken the first step in becoming the player he once was.
In doing so, he is one step closer to once again being the player everyone came to call Baby Bure.