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Sabres Central

Sabres Thrashed by yet another "weak team"
By Rick Anderson
February 14, 2001

Former Sabre Donald Audette, who is have a bang up year with 27 goals, skates past a fallen Jay McKee during the first period of a stunning 5-4 Atlanta victory.
[AP Photo/John Bazemore]

The Atlanta Thrashers were chomping at their bits when the heard about the Montreal Canadiens upsetting the Sabres on Sunday. They rolled out the welcome mats and promptly scored on the Sabres less than a minute after the opening faceoff. From there, the Sabres were clawing and scraping just to keep up with the second year Thrashers. The end result was another embarrassing loss to a much weaker team and the Thrashers thrashed the Sabres 5-4.

What's wrong with this picture?

Something is terribly amiss with the Sabres. They have now lost 6 games against very beatable teams since January 1. Columbus, Florida, Tampa, Montreal, Boston and now Atlanta have made the Sabres look like an expansion team. Buffalo is going places fast, down the standings and out of the playoffs. The game against the Thrashers, the Sabres defense played one of its worst games of the season against a much inferior foe.

The Sabres defense has completely disintegrated since they played so stellar against Ottawa on Saturday. To add to the Sabres woes, the opposing goalies have made the Buffalo tandem of Dominik Hasek and Biron look like a couple of floundering fish. Maybe it's time to bring up Mika Noronen to give the top two Sabres goalies a rude awakening.

Overall, this team is not going to make the playoffs unless Darcy Regier gets off his butt and starts pulling the trigger. He has let Michael Peca hang in the wind, not doing anything to really get the contract negotiations into full gear until Peca said that he was finished with the Sabres and to give the team's captaincy to another player. Regier has been noted for his great patience. This is far beyond patience, it's Chinese Torture treatment on the Sabres, Peca and the fans themselves who deserve so much more for their money.

Sabres Thrashed, smashed, gashed and hashed

This is probably as good as it gets for the Sabres - the opening faceoff against a team one year removed from an expansion team. After seeing the Sabres lose to Montreal on Sunday, the Thrashers knew they had a glorious opportunity to finish off a wounded victim in the Sabres.

The Thrashers opened the scoring early as Ray Ferraro got a gift from Miroslav Satan, split the Sabres defense and came in alone on Martin Biron. As Ferraro came in on Biron, the Sabres goalie committed himself too early and Ferro flipped the puck top shelf to put Atlanta up 1-0 after only 45 seconds. At that point the Sabres should have picked up all their marbles and gone home. They were already on their way home and the Thrashers knew it.

"I was really disappointed," Ruff described the opening goal when Satan gave the puck away and didn't hustle back to hinder Ferraro. "You could probably tell that Satan didn't see another shift after that (until later in the game)."

The Sabres were able to actually even up the score when Dave Andreychuk notched his 13th of the season after a nice feed from Doug Gilmour 11:17 into 1st period.

The Thrashers went back into the lead again at the beginning of the second period when Shean Donovan took the puck from behind the goal line to the left of Biron and skated up along the boards and sent a pass over to Hnat Domenichelli in the slot, who fired one past Biron to put the Thrashers up again.

A little over a minute later, the Sabres tied it up when Chris Gratton got a nice pass from Miroslav Satan and put it past Damian Rhodes to tie it up again.

The game turned into a goal every other minute as Ferraro scored his second of the night as the Thrashers retook the lead 3-2.

Then the third period featured a wild swing of events as the Sabres scored two straight to take a 4-3 lead. Satan got his 18th of the season when the Sabres were on the powerplay at the 8:35 mark. Then Vaclav Varada went in alone on Rhodes and notched his 9th of the season.

That's when the Sabres defense did what they did against Montreal on Sunday, give away the puck. Ferro notched his 6th hat tick of the season when he banged away at the puck in a scramble in front of the net before whacking it home. Ferro must have whacked at the puck at least 4 times before it went through Biron's pads to tie the game 13:14 into 3rd period.

Then the Donovan/Domenichelli combo clicked again for the second time of the night to put the game away for the Thrashers as Domenichelli scored his 9th of the season.

Biron, who made 31 saves on the night, could not be blamed for the five goals scored against him. But he could sue his defense for lack of support. The defense, which had been the Sabres strong point for the past few years, has suddenly collapsed in front of its two goalies.

Ruff has lost control

This season is deja vu all over again for the Sabres. Like last year, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff seems to have lost control of this team. The players aren't listening to him, there isn't any communication on the ice or from the bench and the team is as disorganized as any in the league right now. The blame ultimately has to fall on the shoulders of the coaching staff. If Ruff cannot figure out how to beat teams that don't even belong on the same ice as the Sabres, he's as good as gone next year.

Ruff isn't the only one to blame in this horrendous situation the Sabres are going through right now. The finger also has to be pointed in the direction of the Rigas family which has not lived up to its promise two years ago to make this a Stanley Cup contender. What has happened is the exact opposite. They have handcuffed Regier so that he cannot offer the proper salary offer to Peca or go out and get the players the Sabres need to get back into the race.

Sabres Talk

Ruff seemed to have all the emotion drained out of him as he gave an interview after the game.

"I think the strongest suit of our club all year long is team defense, and it's something that really let us down," said Ruff. "We made a lot of individual mistakes, big individual mistakes. I thought their fourth goal, two or three whacks (by Ferraro), we got caught with one guy standing at the top of the circle trying to find the puck. There wasn't bodies flying. We allowed Ferraro get two or three whacks which led to the game-tying goal."

Ruff described the mission he set for his team and how they failed him and starting goalie Biron right from the get-go.

"The one thing we knew we had to do was that we had to stop that big line (of Donald Audette and Ray Ferraro). To come out and make a careless error, a careless turnover in the neutral zone the first time out against them... you know we had nobody to blame but ourselves. The defense gets split... it's a tough way to get Biron in the goal. He doesn't even get a chance to field any long shots, doesn't get a chance to handle the puck. The first person he sees coming in is one of Atlanta's top scorers. And that's a tough way to get into a hockey game.

Biron, who looked good at times, average at others, knew he did not perform up to his desired levels.

"There are games when you have to step up to the plate and make the big save," commented Biron. "I felt like tonight the big saves I was making were when the game wasn't on the line."

Rob Ray used the excuse of the Sabres D pinching in to help the offense for the odd-man breaks the other way.

"We're telling our defense to jump up and get involved in the offense," offered Ray. "When you do that, obviously you're going to give up outnumbered situations."

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