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Sabres Central

Sabres lose 2 in Florida, demand recount!
By Rick Anderson
February 2, 2001

When the Sabres flew down to Florida, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff tried to make it into a fun vacation. He let the players hit the links and play a couple rounds of golf for two days preceding their first game of the two scheduled in Florida. It was nice to get away from the cold and the snow of Buffalo. The only problem was that the Sabres left their hockey skills on the golf course. Maybe they were getting ready for the offseason, since it is closer now after the Sabres lost both of their games in the Sunshine state.

Lightning get charged up! Lightning right winger Mike Johnson celebrates after scoring Tampa Bay's 4th goal of the game. Vaclav Varada looks glumly on.
[AP Photo/Chris O'Meara]

Thursday night, the Sabres blew another big opportunity to right whatever ails them as the Tampa Bay Lightning took advantage of the slumping Sabres and trounced them 4-2. It was the second straight loss in consecutive nights for Buffalo and was their fifth loss in six games.

The Lightning took a 2-0 lead after one, but the Sabres battled back in the second on goals by Stu Barnes and Doug Gilmour to tie it. However, poor defensive play and continued mediocre goaltending did the Sabres in once again. Now Ruff has until next Tuesday to try to find how to solve the Sabres woes. The NHL's teams go on a break this weekend as the annual All-Star game is to be held on Sunday.

"You look back on these two games with teams who we should beat and it's a giant step backward," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff.

Lightning strikes twice

After playing a very subpar game against Florida the night before, Ruff was hoping the Sabres would come out of the chute loaded for bear. Instead, it was the same game that they played in Miami. The Sabres got their chances, but once again could not hit the back of the net.

Then Lightning struck twice, but at the opposite ends of the ice. In the first period Brad Richards notched his 15th goal of the season when he stole the puck off Maximum Afinogenov's stick and raced in on Sabres goalie Martin Biron. With Jay McKee trying to block him, Richards ripped a slap shot that got past Biron giving the Lightning the opening goal of the game and set the tone.

"When you win a game, you're a little more confident," said Richards . "You that feeling, yea, we're going to win this thing."

Biron got struck by Lightning for the second time 1:20 into 2nd period when the Lightning scored a shorthanded tally. Tampa Bay got a 2-on-1 break and Biron failed to grab a loose puck in front of him, instead poking it right to Martin St Louis who beat Biron for his 9th of the season.

Sabres strike back

Being down 2-0, the Sabres could have packed it in right then. However, the Sabres bounced right back with two goals less than a minute apart. Stu Barnes got the puck past Tampa goalie Kevin Weekes on a deflection that hit a defenseman. Then Gilmour finally broke his scoring draught when he put one past Weekes only 54 seconds later. With Buffalo on a powerplayi, Vaclav Varada and Jason Woolley made a couple nice passes before Gilmour got the puck on to the right of the net. He had an open side to slip the puck into for his first goal in 18 games. It was only Gilmour's third of the season.

That was all the scoring the Sabres could muster.

With 16:20 expired in the second stanza, the Lightning struck once again for what turned out to be the winner.

Kristian Kudroc took a long shot on Biron that hit his catching mit and made the back of the net. It was a goal very similar to the one that Dominik Hasek had allowed the night before against Florida when he waived at a shot from the blue line by Pavel Bure.

"I was pretty happy to score a goal," said Kudroc . "I just shot the puck and didn't look at it go on goal. I was very happy."

The Lightning weren't done inflicting damage to Biron and his Sabres. In the third period, Todd Warriner fed Mike Johnson a perfect pass and Johnson beat Biron for the final goal of the night.

Sabres backlash against management

Could the players in the Sabres dressing room possibly be imposing either a conscious or subconscious backlash against the Sabres management? It is a known fact that the past two seasons, there has been some bickering in the locker room over the way the
Paul Mara is stopped by a sprawling Martin Biron in the second period of a 4-2 Tampa Bay win.
[AP Photo/Chris O'Meara]

management treats its players, especially where contract negotiations are concerned. Last season, it wasn't until near November before the Sabres finally signed Rhett Warrener and Jay McKee. With the continued Michael Peca holdout and past incidents where the Sabres have not dealt the players a fair hand, especially the Donald Audette situation a couple years ago, it is apparent that the Sabres camp is not one happy family.

The Sabres may say otherwise, but something is drastically amiss in the Sabres locker room. The old intensity they used to show, as late as just a couple weeks ago, has mysterously disappeared.

"It's not about (the Michael Peca) situation," said Warrener . "It's about losing and winning. How could we be successful up to now without him? Maybe with another player, we still wouldn't be getting the job done."

That's debatable. What isn't debatable is the fact that with Peca, or someone else in his stead, the Sabres would be that much better. Maybe in games where leadership is needed, an huge open-ice check could help awaken the Sabres from their slumber and get them out of their dogdrums. As it is, there is no fire, no intensity out there on the ice.

Could it just possibly be that the players just don't want to sacrifice their bodies anymore when management is not compensating them for their efforts? Why should a defenseman like Warrener, for instance, lay down in front of a puck traveling at speeds up to 100 mph when management won't go the extra mile for him or the rest of his teammates?

While the players are probably not making a conscous effort to play at 50%, it's the thought lingering in their heads that the team's owners and management are frugal and not willing to compensate them what they feel they are worth.

Ruff road ahead for the Sabres

Ruff has to be scratching his head about where to go from here. He tried his best to get the team in positive spirits earlier in the week when he allowed the team to play a couple rounds of golf before they played Florida. They had a couple days in the sun to forget about their scoring slump. Instead, the Sabres played even worse. Maybe Ruff should have hired a pro to perfect the players' swings on the golf course. It may have carried back on the ice to produce more goals.

"Teams go through slumps. There's no reason and no excuse for losing," Buffalo defenseman Rhett Warrener said. "We're paid to win. We're going to start concentrating more."

"It's about no timely goals, not getting shots through, giving one extra stride on the backcheck," Warrener continued. "Hopefully, it will be like last year. We were not too good before the break, then we made a charge to make the playoffs. We get back to practice on Monday and every guy's gotta be ready to give 110 percent."

Now that the Sabres are off for the All-Star break, maybe they can try to sort out their problems.

"All teams are going to go through some low times," said Dave Andreychuk. "This is a good time for us to have a break and look ourselves in the mirror."

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