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Sabres Central

Sabres in Christmas giving spirt as they lose to Pens
By Rick Anderson
December 27, 2000

The Buffalo Sabres were really in the spirit of Christmas as they gift-wrapped their game with the Pittsburgh Penguins, losing 5-3. The Sabres were so generous that they wound up with eggnog on their faces. Maybe they had a little too much the night before.

There goes the birdie! Dominik Hasek watches as the puck flutters past his glove as Robert Lang scores the Penguins second goal of the game.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

After taking a commanding 3-1 lead, the Sabres allowed the Penguins to play their wide open game and score 4 straight. Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek was pulled early in the second period after allowing 2 very stoppable goals. When the Penguins tied up the game 3-3 with only 2 minutes gone by in the second period, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff decided that enough was enough. He gave the signal to Martin Biron and Hasek was finished for the night.

Before Ruff pulled Hasek, he had smashed his stick on the ice in disgust in response to the third goal he had allowed.

"I've seen him smash his sticks a lot of times," Ruff answered a question in the post game press conference. "That told me he didn't like the way he played. He should be upset. There's a lot of guys who should be upset. There shouldn't be one guy in that locker room who is happy right now."

The Demise of the Dominator

Everything eventually comes to an end. Could this be the end of Hasek's career? Only on a couple of occasions has Hasek looked like the Dominator of old. He just has not recaptured the form that had earned him 5 Vezina Trophies and won his acclaim as possibly the greatest goalie of all time. The way Hasek is playing of late, he couldn't even make half the NHL teams as second string goalie. Hasek is fighting the puck, going down when he should stay up, standing up when he should be going down and seems to have lost his peripheral vision. There comes a time when the old grey horse should be put out to pasture. Has Hasek's time come to finally retire?

Someone who should know the state of the Dominator is his former coach of the Czech Republic Olympic team that won the Gold Medal.

"Something might be hurting him," said Hasek's former Czech coach Alexei Kovalev. "It definitely wasn't him tonight. Usually, he's very good around the net. He tries to stop every puck possible, from every angle. Tonight, it looked like every time we passed it to the side, he was like, "Let the defense handle it.' But we can understand it. He's been big for this Buffalo team. He saved them so many times. I guess he expects a lot more from his team."

Alexei Zhitnik takes out Martin Straka as Dominik Hasek goes to his knees in attempt to make the save during the first period of the Sabres-Penguins clash which Pittsburgh won 5-3.
[REUTERS Photo/Joe Traver ]

That is exactly what Hasek's present coach thinks. Ruff defended Hasek after the Sabres' Thursday practice.

"Every player takes his turn struggling in the lineup," Ruff said Thursday from the Amherst Pepsi Center as they prepared for Friday's game against the Ottawa Senators. "I think Dom has had his share of games that have been average. Marty (Biron) hasn't been fabulous, but has played well. But obviously he (Hasek) is the key, he's the guy who gives our team all the confidence."

Hasek wants the chance to get back into the groove.

"Right now all I can think about is to get practice and hope I get a chance again,"Hasek said. "I was pulled out today and right now I don't know when the good streak or the bad streak will come. All I think about is to get back in the net and prove I can play."

Ruff also went right out and named Hasek as his starter for Friday night's contest against the Senators. Shades of Wade Phillips sticking with Rob Johnson through thick and through thin.

"Dom has typically bounced back from any game where I thought he was below average," defended Ruff. "Yes, but lately he's played well for a game or two, then bounced right back to ordinary again."

Great start but...

The Sabres came out in the first period as if they were going to blow the Penguins away.

Vaclav Varada opened the scoring 5:05 into 1st period, when he went to the net and slammed it behind Pittsburgh goalie Garth Snow. Josef Beranek tied it up only 42 seconds later when he got a couple shots on Hasek, finally lifting it over the sprawled goalie.

Less than two minutes later, the Sabres were on top again. Vladimir Tsyplakov threaded the needle with a pass to Maxim Afinogenov and Mad Max took a shot that beat Snow.

Then came a break that should have really ignited the Sabres. Tsyplakov was able to wrap the puck around the goal post and poke it in right at the corner, but Snow got the puck out and the play continued down the ice. When the play finally stopped, almost a minute later, the call was made from the video judge down to the game officials that the Sabres had scored a goal. When it was counted, Tsyplakov had his fourth of the season.

Right then is when the Sabres should have really turned it on, used their killer instinct and put the Penguins away for good. Instead, the opposite happened. The Sabres counted their blessings and played laid back hockey, thinking the game was over. However, the Penguins have owned the Sabres in HSBC Arena since 1999, winning 4 straight games in the Sabres home since April 5, 1999.

The Penguins would proceed to score 4 straight goals. After two, they chased Hasek to the bench. It all started when Robert Lang got the puck from Kovalev and made a bee-line towards Hasek. Hasek went to his knees and the puck was sent up over Hasek's shoulder and outreached glove to put the Pens back into the game.

Then with two minutes gone by in the second period, the Pens were on a powerplay when Beranek passed the puck over to Straka on Hasek's right side. Age played a factor in Hasek's slow lateral movement to cover the open side. Hasek waived his stick at the puck as it flew past and into the wide open net. It was then that Hasek smashed his stick to smithereens.

Hasek had destroyed his stick before Ruff signaled him to come to the bench.

"I had no idea I was pulled already," said Hasek. "I was frustrated about myself. It wasn't about only the goal but what happened before the goal. It was about mistakes 10, 15, 20 seconds before they got into position to score."

In came Biron, but he had as much help from the team in front of him as Hasek did. Biron was unable to stop Kovalev at 15:53 of the second period and then Jan Hrdina completed the scoring 2:21 into the final period. Neither goalie has much support from the defense or the forwards. In all, it was a lackluster performance that is becoming all to familiar right after the Christmas break.

Peca hurt

The Sabres certainly could have used Michael Peca Wednesday night. He was instrumental in shutting down the Jagr line and most other teams' top lines in the past. With him out and now Curtis Brown out for two weeks, the Sabres are all out of checking centers. Put Gilmour in the mix, and the Sabres are suddenly short at center.

The time is now for the Sabres management to come to their senses and reach a little deeper in their pockets and sign Peca once and for all. He is now over in Switzerland playing for team Canada in a hockey tournament. In fact, on his opening shift on Thursday, Peca strained his groin. It is uncertain the extent of the injury. Peca is hopeful to be playing tomorrow for Canada. The season is now half over and the Sabres are hardly budging from their current offer. All along, it was assumed that an even compromise, splitting the difference between the two offers was the way to get Peca into camp. Right now Peca wants $3.5 million per year. The Sabres are offering him around a million less, give and take a some incentives they just threw his way. The answer is a $3 million per season contract. If Peca refuses to take that, then it is time for the Sabres to package a deal to get someone to replace him. The more the Sabres wait, the more it will hurt them in the standings.

Sabres Talk

Ruff was adamant about his team's play after the game on Wednesday.

Vladimir Tsyplakov is about to wrap the puck around the goal post for a goal, which wouldn't be counted until a minute later. The play went on and went there finally was a whistle, the video judge ruled that it was a goal. Pens goalie Garth Snow and Hans Jonssson (8) are the other Pittsburgh players pictured.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

"We made some bonehead mistakes that you can't make against that team," Ruff fumed. "You give Lang the goal with 2:09 left in the period on a nothing play where everybody is in good position. The defenseman lets him get in behind him."

Hasek wasn't the only player Ruff wanted to bench.

"I would have liked to yank more than one player," Ruff said. "It was a wakeup call for everybody. Dom wasn't out there to give them the breakaway, Dom didn't give them the 2-on-1. It wasn't just about Dom. Dom could have played better, but we had some defense which was pretty porous, that didn't take a lot of pride. We made a lot of mistakes with a 3-1 lead that we don't normally make. Part of that was the way we played in our own end. Coverage wasn't very good, we gave them some great opportunities."

Gilmour thinks the Sabres once again got caught up in the Penguins run-and-shoot system.

"That's what happens," Gilmour said. "We're trying to do things we can't. That's the way it is when you're trying to put that extra pressure on. We should have been sticking to our system."

"We should have been in good shape (up 3-1)," said Rob Ray. "It should have made our job easier. We got a little greedy. The goals were coming too easy, and you start playing their game. You're not beating that team that way."

Meanwhile, the Penguins are preparing for the return of Mario Lemieux.

"I think it's going to be a big lift for everybody," said Jagr. "He's such a superstar. Everybody respects him and everybody listens to him. I think it's a big thing for our hockey team right now. That's what we need."

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