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Sabres Central

Biron mirrors Hasek, blanks Isles
By Rick Anderson
December 31, 2000

Martin Biron has been an astute student of Dominik Hasek since he has first put on a Sabres uniform. Friday night, he watched Hasek put on a goaltender's clinic as he shut down the Senators 2-0. Saturday night, Biron got his chance to show what he learned from the master and duplicated Hasek's feat, shutting out the New York Islanders by an identical 2-0 score.

Martin Biron sprawls to make a save in the first period against the New York Islanders. Biron posted his first shutout of the season and Buffalo won 2-0.
[AP Photo/Ed Betz]

This was the second time the Sabres had back-to-back shutouts. Back on November 9 and 11, Hasek had pulled off the feat by himself as he blanked the Isles and the Devils. This time it was a combined effort as Biron put forth his best effort of the season in recording his first whiteout. Biron made 15 saves, but had to be sharp on quite a few of them.

This was the first time the Sabres have used two different goalies to record two straight shutouts in almost 21 years. Remember the names of Bob Sauve and Don Edwards? Not too many younger Sabres fans can. They were the last two Dueling Goalies to pull that rabbit out of the hat. Way back in the 1979-80 season, Sauve shut out the Vancouver Canucks on February 3, 1980. Four days later, Don Edwards did his thing in the nets, shutting out the Penguins 9-0.

"We're going to go for a trifecta and bring up Noronen and give him a shot against Boston," joked Ruff. "But really that tells you something about them. We're in a tough situation (6 games in 8 days) where we need everybody and we stayed with Marty and he was rock solid."

Just enough Firepower

The game was another defensive struggle, similar to the previous night when the Sabres and Senators slugged it out. The game remained scoreless after the first period, with the Isles having the edge in shots 8-5. Biron made several electrifying saves in keeping the Isles off the board in the first 20 minutes.

Near the 12 minute mark of the second stanza, Dave Andreychuk took a roughing penalty. With the Islanders trying to set up a score, Richard Smehlik pickpocketed Mariusz Czerkawski at the Buffalo blue line and got the puck up to Miroslav Satan. Satan and Denis Hamel stormed up the ice on a 2-on-1 break towards Islander goalie John Vanbiesbrouck. Satan passed off to Hamel, who sent his shot off Vanbiesbrouck and into the net. It was the Sabres' third shorthanded goal of the season.

Fish sandwich. Islanders Mark Lawrence is given the squeeze play by the Sabres defensive tandem of Richard Smehlik (42) and Alexei Zhitnik during first period action in Long Island.
[AP Photo/Ed Betz]

"That pass was incredible," said Ruff about Smehlik's pass to Satan. "He got it to Miro and Miro's pass was only a little less incredible than Richard's."

"When I saw Miro on the boards, I just tried to skate as fast as I can to get us a two-on-one," said Hamel, who also scored a goal against the Isles on November 9 in Buffalo. "The puck came right on my blade, and I just had to put it in. It was the easiest goal I scored this year."

From then on, it was the Vanbiesbrouck vs. Biron show. Vanbiesbrouck had to make saves in all as he kept the Sabres from running up the score. When the game got close to the final minute, Vanbiesbrouck was pulled in favor of the extra attacker.

The night before, the Sabres had two glorious chances to score into an empty net and came away empty handed. Stu Barnes had cleared the puck from right in front of Hasek all the way down the ice and clanked it off the post and then Satan had an even better chance when he pinged the puck off the near post when he was only 5 feet from the side of the net.

Lindy Ruff may have had the Sabres practicing open net shots during practice before the game as Erik Rasmussen finally got it right and hit the back of a wide open net. Smehlik, who had been benched the night before against the Senators, once again started the play that led to the lighting of the goal lamp. He stole the puck when the Isles were pressing, got it over to Rasmussen, who skated to the New York blue line and let ‘er rip, finding twine and assuring the Sabres a victory. It was Rasmussen's 7th tally of the year and put the icing on the year 2000 for the Sabres. Now they can quietly celebrate the dawning of the New Year. Too much partying is definitely forbidden by Ruff as the Sabres play a New Year's Day game against the Bruins in HSBC Arena.

Buffalo snow

Buffalo is famous for their snowstorms. The Sabres took the snow with them on their trip to Long Island as the east coast was struck by a storm usually reserved for Wester New York. More than two feet of snow fell across parts of New Jersey and New York. New York City itself had to shovel out of a foot of wet, heavy snow. The Big Apple will have to work overtime to get Times Square ready for the New Year's Eve celebrations scheduled to bring in the Year 2001.

A total of 12,370 tickets were sold for the Sabres game, but only 1,650 braved the elements to see their team lose to the upstate New York hockey club.

In Dominik's shadow

It was eleven months ago when Sabres backup goalie Biron recorded his last shutout of the season against the Ottawa Senators. The Sabres offense, which was struggling all season, managed to get one and Biron took that and ran with it. He blocked 21 Senator shots and posted his fifth shutout of the 1999-2000 season. At that time, Biron was leading the NHL in shutouts and was a strong candidate for Rookie of the Year. He knew, however, that he had to relinquish his duties in the crease to the Master, the goalie who some thought to be the best to ever put on a pair of goalie pads.

Biron stepped out of the limelight and slipped back into the shadows of Dominik Hasek. Except for an occasional cameo appearance, Biron remained behind the scenes for the rest of that theatrical performance by the Buffalo Sabres.

The start of this season was a whole different ballgame. Biron was a restricted free agent. This was one of the few chances he would get to make a statement about his future, what he thought he should be making and even which team he wanted to play for. He joined Michael Peca as the only holdout when the Sabres began playing preseason games. The two of them, along with Dixon Ward, who did not figure in the Sabres plans, practiced every day at the Amherst Pepsi Center. They would keep each other competitive as the contract talks seemed to be nonexistent.

The normally talkative Biron would not say too much about his demands in the talks with the Sabres management. No one knew where the Sabres "goalie of the future" stood. Money did not seem to be the real issue with Marty. The real issue could have been the fact that he didn't really know where he stood in the Sabres' scheme of things. Biron proved that he could be a No. 1 goalie in the NHL, but Hasek was blocking his path.

When Hasek was out of the lineup for over half of last season with his groin tear, Biron filled in admirably. Biron had an 19-18-2 record and posted a goals against of 2.42. It almost seemed unfair that Biron had to go back to being a backup after preventing a complete collapse by the Sabres when Hasek went down.

Biron and Peca continued to hold out and the Sabres No. 2 goalie was getting impatient with the contract talks. Finally, he decided getting back into the fold and playing some games was more important than holding out for more money. He signed for considerably less than the $1 million a year he was asking, but didn't want to lose any more playing time. What's more, last year's AHL Rookie of the Year, Mika Noronen won the Sabres first two games this year while Hasek was out with a minor injury. Biron didn't want to lose any more ground to Noronen.

Biron was immediately sent to Rochester for some training after he signed his contract. In Biron's first game, he posted a shutout. After one more game with the Amerks, Biron was back shuffled off to Buffalo and assumed his usual role on the bench as the Sabres second-string goalie. He also got out his notebook and pen and continued where he left off as being Hasek's apprentice. Biron has proven to be an excellent student and a patient one also. He knows his time is coming, just when is still unclear as Hasek still hasn't made any definite commitment for next season. Meanwhile, Biron is happy to continue to play in Hasek's shadow. Sooner or later, Biron knows that the Sabres crease will be his, that is unless Noronen beats him to it.

So far this year, Biron has posted a 3-2-1 record with a 2.17 GAA. His shutout of the Isles was his first of the season and 6th of his career, with all the other shutouts coming last year.

When asked how he keeps himself mentally ready when he has so few appearances, Biron replied, "I just try to look at it, it could be worse. It could be a lot worse and right now I think we have a great bunch of guys who are having fun at every practice. When I'm on the bench, when Doms playing, I'm having fun on the bench, learning the game a lot. So that keeps you going, you never get too down and you never have the feeling like you want to let go of anything."

Sabres Talk

Biron talked about sharing the double shutout feat with Hasek.

"It's never a bad thing when both of your goalies get a shutout," Biron said. "It shows the team's been playing extremely well."

J.P. Dumont grimaces as he's being checked into the boards by Isles center Dave Scatchard.
[REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine]

"You just want to work hard," said Biron referring to his backup position and having to be alert in case if Hasek ever gets hurt or Ruff decides to yank him. (The coaches) make me work after practice, they make sure I stay on the ice, so that's always important."

Talking about the Sabres position in the Northeast division, being only one point out of first place, Biron said, "We have a few games in hand and we beat a big team like Ottawa last night. It's always important. You're fighting for home-ice advantage or a playoff spot... you know the games where (the team) has to play all together, especially Christmas and the January stretch. After that, you get your team ready for the playoffs in February and March. You get really excited about that playoff hockey then your team gets rolling."

Meanwhile, the Michael Peca situation gets worse. Peca decided to go to Davos, Switzerland with Team Canada for the Spengler Cup hockey tournament. In his first shift with the team in Wednesday's opening game, he aggravated his groin. He is still out of the lineup because of it.

"He wasn't able to play today, although he did get a chance to skate some during practice," said Canada's GM Mike Pelino. "But I don't think that anyone here feels that his was a wasted trip. It's just great to have him be a part of our team."

Peca had gotten nowhere in his contract talks with the Sabres and decided to get some actual playing time with Team Canada. His playing time was very short. Now he is acting as an assistant coach behind the bench. Peca and the Sabres are separated by $1 million in the contract negotiations.

The Islanders are not happy campers right now. The Isles, who had beaten Atlanta 5-2 the night before, were hoping to have their first two game winning streak since the first of November. The loss was the fourth in five games for the Isles.

"You're asking the $64,000 question," said Vanbiesbrouck about the Isles' inability to win two straight. "We're getting close, but we have some undisciplined times out there."

Islanders coach Butch Goring is scratching his head about his team's lack of victories.

"All we gave up was one short-handed goal," Goring said. " We had some pretty good opportunities, but didn't score. The disappointing thing is that we beat ourselves."

"They weren't going to beat themselves," Goring continued. "We've got four rookie defensemen in the lineup, and it doesn't take a genius to figure out that when you have four rookie defensemen, you're going to dump the puck in all the time and make them work it out. And giving up just one short-handed goal is a tribute to how well our defensemen played."


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