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Sabres Central

Sabres shoot down the Ducks
By Rick Anderson
January 17, 2002

Richard Smehlik battles with Ducks left wing Paul Kariya for the puck in the first period. The Sabres beat the Mighty Ducks 3-1.
[AP Photo/John Hayes]

There is only one player left on the Buffalo Sabres roster who typifies the style of hockey the Sabres used to play under former coach Ted Nolan. Under Nolan's realm, the Sabres earned the rightful title of the "hardest working team in the NHL." Vaclav Varada still plays the style of aggressive, in-your-face kind of hockey that Nolan instilled in all of his players. Varada got the Sabres on the scoreboard Wednesday in Anaheim and it set the tempo of the game as the Sabres beat the Ducks 3-1.

"I want to be the road warrior," proclaimed Varada. "I like to play on the road and this was a big two points we got tonight."

Known more for antagonizing the opponent, similar to the way Matthew Barnaby used to, Varada has suddenly found a scoring touch. Varada, in his last five games has tallied four times.

"I'm just happy to contribute and it's good to see the puck going in the net," stated Varada.

Almost 8 minutes into the second stanza, Varada was upended by Ducks defenseman Oleg Tverdovksy. While falling forward, Varada was able to wack the puck past former Sabre goalie Steve Shields.

"I just wanted to make sure I put all I could on that shot," said Varada. "It was a huge goal, the kind of goal we needed to build off of."

Less than 4 minutes later, the Sabres suddenly had a 2-0 lead when Tim Connolly put a shot on Shields from the point that deflected off the goalie's mask into the net for his eighth goal this season.

With Shields pulled for the extra attacker late in the game, J.P. Dumont notched his 18th of the year when he got an empty-netter with just 20 ticks left on the clock.

Sabres get back to their D-game

With the Sabres experimenting with opening up the game to get more scoring, the defense suffered greatly in the first half of the season. The Sabres have been slowly getting back to the style of defensive hockey that won them the Jennings Trophy last season. Defensemen like Jay McKee are getting down and blocking a ton of shots. McKee came into the game having blocked 108 shots so far this season.

"We rely on playing solid defensive hockey," said McKee. "We'd rather win games 2-1, as opposed to 5-4. We get a lot of help from our forwards because we do have a defensive system, and we have players who have played here for a lot of years under this system."

With a smothering defense in front of him, Martin Biron was able to limit the Mighty Ducks to just one goal, that by Mike Leclerc, who scored a powerplay goal in the second period. Biron was called upon to handle just 17 shots.

"The defense is playing really well and the scoring chances are down," mentioned Biron. "Guys are blocking a lot of shots. They're sliding and making sure they take the shooting lane away. It makes a big difference when you're trying to shoot the puck and there's a big body in front of you."

Biron has also shown much more confidence between the pipes as the Sabres have now won four out of their last five.

"Marty was solid," lauded Ruff. "We can judge on the fact that when things weren't going as well, we gave up at least one goal per game we didn't like. We can't say that anymore."

The Sabres play their second game in two nights when they travel to Los Angeles to play the Kings. Bob Essensa is slated to handle the goaltending duties and it will take an even greater defensive effort in front of him if the Sabres are going to win their second straight on this western road trip.

Sabres Talk

Ruff was happy the way the Western road trip started off.

"Anytime you can start a four-game road trip with a win, you can build off that," Ruff said. "But we have to put this behind us and focus on L.A. We have to play the same smothering-type defensive game like we did tonight."

McKee was a huge factor in dropping down to block shots.

"We rely on playing solid defensive hockey. We'd rather win games 2-1, as opposed to 5-4," McKee said. "We get a lot of help from our forwards because we do have a defensive system, and we have players who have played here for a lot of years under this system."

"We got what we wanted," McKee said. "What we wanted was to start this trip with nothing less than two points. Our overall effort was there and Marty came up with big saves. We're creeping up. It's baby steps," McKee said. "We try and block that out and play it game by game. We know what our goal is right now, which is to grab the eighth spot."

ESPN's Game Recap for more game details.

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