Sabres' Hecht, Afinogenov could be back in lineup soon

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Sabres center Jochen Hecht could be back from a pulled leg muscle as soon as Monday's game against Philadelphia, while injured forward Maxim Afinogenov may not be far behind.

Coach Lindy Ruff said after practice Sunday that Afinogenov is a couple of strong practices away from returning to action after having missed 24 games with a groin injury. After skating on his own for most of the past week, Afinogenov took part in the full team session Sunday.

"Max is doing a lot better," Ruff said. "I would think that the way things are progressing, that he's probably one or two good practices from playing."

That means Afinogenov should be back before Buffalo completes a five-game homestand that closes against Detroit on March 2.

The Sabres, coming off a 4-3 loss to the Rangers on Saturday, fell to eighth place, two points behind New York and Boston, in the tightly contested Eastern Conference playoff race. Philadelphia, which has lost 10 straight, and the New York Islanders sit a point behind Buffalo.

Ruff was hopeful the Sabres could get Hecht back even sooner after the player was held out Saturday, marking the first game the player's missed this season.

"He may skate tomorrow morning, which could put him possible for the game," said Ruff, noting that he kept Hecht out of practice to give him one more day of rest.

Hecht, the team's captain for the month of February, has been one of the Sabres' steadiest two-way players. He ranks fifth on the team with 37 points (17 goals, 20 assists) in 61 games.