By Tim Schmitt
BUFFALO — It’s the back story that’s snipped off the beginning of every highlight.
The play before the play.
Daniel Paille chugged in hard down the left wall, kept the puck deep and waited for help to come.
It finally did. First in the form of Drew Stafford, then Paul Gaustad.
Eventually the puck found its way onto the stick of Tyler Myers, who flipped a harmless looking backhand that beat Dwayne Roloson.
After sitting out the first four games, Paille made his season debut Friday during the Sabres’ 6-3 victory, and while he by no means lit the world on fire, he clearly contributed.
Later it was another Paille setup, this time as he crashed to the net off the right side, dragging a defender for a ride. Patrick Kaleta pounced on a loose puck, giving the Sabres a 5-2 edge in the third.
While it’s great to see Paille on the scoresheet, it’s puzzling how the Welland, Ont. native hasn’t gotten minutes sooner. Guys like Clarke MacArthur, Matt Ellis, Pat Kaleta and now Tim Kennedy have leapfrogged Paille on the depth chart. Only an injury to Thomas Vanek finally freed up minutes for Paille to play.
Paille said before Friday’s game that he’s not sure why he’d yet to play.
“I’m not too sure. I think it just comes down to who they want to play right now,” Paille said. “All I can do is be patient.”
The reason is clear — Paille drifts. For a guy selected with the 20th pick in the 2002 draft, you’d expect he’d know his role by now. Paille doesn’t. He’s played in parts of five different seasons now that he got the call on Friday. And as a restricted free agent at season’s end, it’s hard to say where he fits in the team’s plans, if at all.
And even the coaching staff still hasn’t been able to figure out how Paille’s wired.
When asked if he thought the benching would serve as a wake-up call for Paille, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said Paille operates “a little differently.”
“I don’t know if me kicking him in the butt works, Ruff said. “He’s a little bit of a different personality. Sometimes an arm around a shoulder is better for a guy like Danny. He’s got a great shot and (he’s) a great skater. He can dominate the physical game. It’s inside him to come out and put forth a great effort for us.”
Friday’s effort was a good start. Although he only finished with one assist, he was on the ice for two of the team’s goals. He played OK on a line with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford, but later was moved to the “energy line.”
And Vanek will return. Soon. In fact, it’s possible Vanek will be in the lineup early next week when Buffalo makes a Florida trip.
And then what?
Paille’s big, fast and plays the half-wall as anyone when he’s on his game. But that’s precisely it. The Sabres have started strong for a second straight season by playing each shift hard.
If Paille can’t keep up the pace, he’ll probably get left behind.
Contact sports editor Tim Schmitt at 282-2311, ext. 2266.