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Sabres Central

Sabres AWOL on the West Coast
By Rick Anderson
January 12, 2001

The Buffalo Sabres apparently didn't board the plane when they left Nashville Sunday. They seemed to have left something behind in the Music City when they made their trek to California. Thursday night, the Sabres lost their second straight game in the Golden State as the Los Angeles Kings held on to beat them 3-2.

Stu Grimson scores the second goal of the game for the Los Angeles Kings as he heaves the puck past Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek in the first period. Dmitri Kalinin watches as the Kings take a 2-0 lead.
[AP Photo/Kim D. Johnson]

For the second time in two games, the Sabres didn't show up for the first period and it cost them dearly. Against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, the Sabres spotted 2 goals and then made it a one goal game as all the goals came in the first period. In LA, the Sabres once again gave the home team a 2-0 lead. The Kings blistered Dominik Hasek with 11 shots, while all the Sabres shooters could muster was 4.

"We were pretty flat," admitted Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "We came out of it by the second and third period but we missed way too many opportunities to get back into it."

Curtis Brown, playing his first game after being out of the lineup for 8, scored the Sabres first goal to make it a 2-1 game. After the Kings scored their third goal in the third period and Chris Gratton got Buffalo back into striking range when he notched his third in as many games. That was all she wrote for the Sabres offense as the Kings goalie, Jamie Storr, shut the door the rest of the way.

Out-Dominated again

Hasek making his first start in 3 games, had his usual inconsistent game. The Dominator was out-dominated by Storr, who made 19 saves and was especially sharp when he had to be in the third period as the Sabres had
Stu Grimson scores the second goal of the game for the Los Angeles Kings as he heaves the puck past Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek in the first period. Dmitri Kalinin watches as the Kings take a 2-0 lead.
[AP Photo/Kim D. Johnson]

many glorious opportunities to tie the game. Hasek, meanwhile, made 27 saves and prevented the Kings from taking an even bigger lead in the first period. However, both goals he did allow used to be easy stops for the 5-time Vezina Trophy winner.

"It was a defensive effort," said Storr about the D men in front of him. "Any time you get three goals against the world's best goalie, you'd better win. You don't do it often."

The first goal the Kings scored was a beauty. Rhett Warrener was sent to the box around the first minute mark and the Kings put on an impressive powerplay. Rob Blake got control of the puck to Hasek's left and the Buffalo goalie expected a shot. However, the Kings' high-priced defenseman passed it over to Steven Reinprecht, who sent the puck past Hasek to open the scoring. Hasek had gotten out of position in his attempt to block Blake's shot, but when the puck was sent over to Reinprecht, he couldn't get over in time to stop the shot.

The Kings upped the score to 2-0 after For the second game in a row a Alexei Zhitnik turnover resulted in a goal against. He coughed up the puck and Eric Belanger took a shot on Hasek which he stopped. But the aging Sabres goalie gave up a big rebound that Stu Grimson pounced on. He slipped the puck through Hasek and the Sabres were in big trouble once again on the west coast.

Curtis is back

Curtis Brown has had a disappointing season. With the Michael Peca situation becoming increasingly non-negotiable, Brown was expected to pick up the slack. Instead, he was having one of his worst seasons until he received a sprained right knee 8 games ago. He only had registered 4 goals and was the biggest mystery in the Sabres scheme of things besides the Peca holdout.

Brown broke Storr's shutout bid when he took a saucer pass from Jason Woolley as he was barreling towards the L.A. goal. He tipped Woolley's pass by Storr as a Kings defenseman crashed the net in a desperate attempt to thwart Brown. However, the puck was in the net before the net went off the moorings. It was Brown's 5th of the season.

The score remained 2-1 until the Kings notched the clincher 3:31 into the third period. Early in third period, the Sabres couldn't keep the puck in the Kings zone and the Kings went on a 2-on-1 break the other way. Ian Laperriere went in with Bryan Smolinski against Zhitnik. Smolinski decided to take the shot instead of passing it over to Laperriere. His shot beat Hasek when it hit the cross bar and bounced behind the Sabres goalie. Hasek tried to block it with his catching mitt, but couldn't get his arm up in time.

"I knew Lapy was there, and I was thinking pass all the way," said Smolinski. "I was drawing back the stick to pass and I saw Zhitnik go down, and I just shot. It was a split-second change."

"It was a great goal," said Ruff.

Less than three minutes later, the Sabres came right back and got into the game again. Zhitnik took a blast from around the blue line and Gratton took his stance in front of Storr. As the puck entered the crease area, Gratton tipped it past the goalie for his 12th of the season.

"Maybe it was something I got away from," Gratton talked about planting himself in front of an opposing goalie. "My job is to get in front and make life hard for the goalie."

Sabres finally awaken

After that, the Sabres finally woke up and played the kind of hockey that Lindy Ruff was hoping his team would display for the entire west coast trip. As the Sabres buzzed around Storr, the LA goalie kept his cool and stopped all the rubber the Sabres threw at him. J.P. Dumont had several great chances and shot over the goalie one time and a few seconds later was stopped by a great save by Storr.

The Sabres were storming the crease, giving Storr fits.

"That's their style of play," Storr said about the Sabres. "When there's a 240-pound guy sitting on you, that's no fun."

The Sabres kept piling on top of him as if they were trying out for jobs with the Bills defensive line.

"It was like a goal-line stand," Smolinski said.

The Sabres were left shaking their heads when the final buzzer signaled the end of the game. They had too many chances to once again go out empty handed. But that's exactly what they did and their only chance to salvage the trip out west is to beat the Anaheim Mighty Ducks Friday night.

Sabres Talk

Gratton, who had been slumping for most of the season, has become the Sabres hottest scorer as of late. He credited his teammates Erik Rasmussen and Vaclav Varada for his improved production.

Stu Grimson scores the second goal of the game for the Los Angeles Kings as he heaves the puck past Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek in the first period. Dmitri Kalinin watches as the Kings take a 2-0 lead.
[AP Photo/Kim D. Johnson]

"All three of us play pretty much the same way. We want to get the puck in deep and cycle," Gratton said. "We've been pretty successful so far and we're getting a lot of chances."

Hasek compared the game to the one two nights earlier against the Sharks.

"It was similar to the game I watched from the bench in San Jose,"said Hasek. "We just didn't show up for the first 10 or 15 minutes and we never came back."

Then Hasek turned his attention to finally starting in the nets.

"It was a little different feeling because I used to play more," said Hasek. "But Martin had two shutouts in his last two starts, so the coach wanted to give him another chance."

Grimson is a good luck charm for the Kings. When he scores, they win.

"When Peter Forsberg scores, Colorado wins. And when Stu Grimson scores, we win," said Kings coach Andy Murray.

"Stu Grimson gets a goal against Dominik Hasek?" Storr said with a wide grin. "You've got to win a game with that. You see smiles all around every time when Stu scores. The biggest thing is that we're getting scoring from everybody. When Stu scores, we've very happy for him, but we also know that he worked very hard to get to the net and get that goal."

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