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Sabres Central

Bruins maul Sabres 2-1
By Rick Anderson
January 27, 2001

What constitutes a sump? Whatever the qualifications are, the Buffalo Sabres are certainly in one right now. The Sabres lost their second home game in a row and third straight overall as they once again could not generate any offense in a 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins.

The Bruins' Mikko Eloranta gets his first goal of the game against Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek. Jay McKee slid over to stop Bill Guerin (13) on a breakaway, but the puck went over to Eloranta, who notched his first of two goals early in the first period.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

One of the biggest questions that Sabres fans are asking is how long is the scoring slump going to continue. Buffalo has now managed just 3 goals in 4 games and doesn't even appear close to breaking out of the desiccation. There is more of a power shortage in the Sabres dressing room than in all of California these days.

Eloranta nets all Bruins goals

The Bruins got all the offense they needed from one man Friday night. His name is one that is not too familiar in hockey circles and he definitely is not known as one of the elite NHL goal scorers. But after the disappointed sellout crowd of 18,690 flocked out of HSBC Arena Friday night, they were all trying to pronounce his name properly. The Sabres fans got introduced to Mikko Eloranta in a very timely fashion early in the game.

With just a little over 3 minutes gone by in the game, Jay McKee coughed up the puck to Bill Guerin and the Boston forward broke in alone on Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek. McKee hustled back and was able to poke the puck away from Guerin, but it went directly onto Eloranta's stick, who was trailing the play. Eloranta's shot beat Hasek and burst the Sabres bubble. Buffalo had hoped to come out strong in the first period and set the tempo by scoring first. The opposite happened.

The game remained tie at 1-1 until Eloranta was Johnny-on-the-spot once again to score the game winner. With a faceoff in the Buffalo zone, Chris Gratton lost it to Mike Knuble. The puck flipped into the air and landed like a golden egg at the feet of Eloranta, who blasted one right between the pads of a stunned Hasek. Knowing that the Sabres already had their quota of goals in this one, the Bruins celebrated as if they had won in overtime with still over 13 minutes left in the final stanza.

"I saw the puck all the time but I think the defensive guys from Buffalo didn't see where it was," said Eloranta. "I knew where it was going to go and I hit the puck and tried to hit the net and it went in."

This was Eloranta's night. Everything he touched turned into gold. Things have certainly turned around for the 27-year-old Bruin forward since Mike Keenan took over the Boston coaching job in October. Eloranta has been in Keenan's dog house on numerous occasions, sitting in the press box, demoted to the fourth line and sometimes not even getting two minutes of playing time when he was in uniform. Keenan wanted Eloranta to play more aggressively.

''It was hard for me, watching from up in the stands,'' said Eloranta, who has done his best to change his playing style to what Keenan demands. ''I knew I could play here, but ...''

But Keenan wanted more. He at least wanted the same from Eloranta, on a shift-to-shift, night-to-night basis.

''I challenged him,'' Keenan talked about his demand that Eloranta play aggressive consistently. ''And like most players, he had a difficult time with a demanding coach. But I made it clear I wanted his best on a consistent basis. He had shown flashes, and I think he had a difficult time understanding it.''

The result of Keenan's pressure has been the second two-goal performance in seven games for Eloranta. On top of that, Boston is 8-1-0 when Eloranta gets a point.

At last a powerplay goal

Even though the power outages and blackouts are the chief concern of Sabres coach Lindy Ruff, he did have one bright note Friday night as the Sabres finally broke out of their powerplay shutout streak. After going 0 for 35 with a man advantage, Denis Hamel broke the goose egg barrier and lit the lamp with the Sabres a man up.

With Don Sweeney off for delay of game 31 seconds into the second period, Jason Woolley got a shot off from the point. Hamel was able to fight his way to in front of Boston goalie Bryon Dafoe and was able to redirect the puck past Dafoe to tie the game at 1. The goal came just 6 seconds after Sweeney went to the penalty box and marked Hamel's 8th of the season.

"We thought that one (power play goal) would jump-start us," Woolley inferred. "I just wanted to get it to the net. Obviously, I was happy when it went in. It wasn't enough."

Goalie Matchup

Clearly, Dafoe was the difference in this game. He played brilliantly in the nets for the Bruins, making 29 saves and kept the Sabres off the board.

Byron Dafoe comes out to challenge Curtis Brown and deflects Brown's shot over the net in first period action. Dafoe was instrumental in the Bruins 2-1 victory, stopping 29 shots.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

"Tonight, Byron was the difference for us," Keenan said. "He was really solid when we needed him. You need big goalies to win big games, and in my opinion, that was his biggest game of the season.''

Dafoe credited his team in front of him for helping him out, especially when shorthanded.

"To tell you the truth, I've got to say our penalty killing is what really won us the game tonight," said Dafoe, alluding to how the Bruins allowed only 1 goal out of 7 attempts. "This is especially big because it's realistically a four-pointer. Buffalo's one of the teams we're trying to catch."

Meanwhile, Hasek had a relatively easy night, facing only 20 shots. The two that did get through are ones that he has stopped in the past.

"We had a couple of chances to win the game, and unfortunately, we couldn't score," Hasek talked about missed opportunities. "We missed a wide open net once or twice."

Chippy game

Chris Gratton has the helmet go over his eyes in his battle with Bruin tough guy Joe Thornton. Thornton takes the opportunity to land some more punches on the suddenly blinded Gratton. Gratton got a cut on the bridge of his nose as a result of the helmet.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

The Sabres came out loaded for bear and ended up getting mauled. This was your typical physical Boston-Buffalo game with plenty of hits and fights. McKee set the tone when he upset Sweeney with a leg-to-leg hit that sent both players flying. Sweeney came back with a ferocious hit of Hamel along the boards. Hamel did his part with a gigantic check to Andrei Kovalenko, felling the Bruin that left him wincing with pain on the ice for minutes.

Then there were the Friday night fights. Buffalo's heavyweight Gratton matched up evenly with his Bruin counterpart Joe Thornton until Gratton's helmet was pulled over his eyes. Then it was lights out for Gratton and he received a nasty cut over the bridge of his nose.

In the second period, it was Rhett Warrener who tangled with Thornton, after the Bruin took liberties with Hasek.

"We knew it was going to be tough," said Thornton. "It always is when we play the Sabres, and this definitely was not an exception."

For the most part, the Sabres showed more emotion and aggressive play than they have for the past two weeks. However, it still wasn't enough as the Bruins got all the goals they needed from one man.

"I think you've got to use the work ethic and the emotion we came out with as a building block," Ruff said. "We got vicious at times. It was good to see guys care."

Offensive tribulation

Where do we start? Maybe the best place is to state the positives where the Sabres offense is concerned. There aren't any! The Sabres are mired in one of their worst offensive funks in recent memory, and there is plenty of slumps to compare to. Last year, the Sabres had the worst powerplay in the league. They are in the midst of defending their Throne of Thorns once again.

Earlier in the season, the Sabres looked like they had righted their ship as far as the powerplay was concerned. J.P. Dumont, who had been the extra player in the Doug Gilmour for Michal Grosek deal, was on fire. He surged to 15 goals the day after Christmas, but it has now been the same number games (15) without a goal. Dumont's last goal was against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 6-4 defeat at home. Dumont typifies the entire Sabres offense with has scoring slump.

"In the beginning of the season, everything I was doing was always the right thing," lamented Dumont. "The puck just doesn't want to go in. Either I don't make the decision to shoot or he makes a great save or I get a bad bounce. It's something I have to deal with."

When the Sabres needed goal scoring, they used to rely on Miroslav Satan in years past. Their former 40-goal scorer has been is a wicked slump that he just can't seem to break out of. Satan has the same number of goals as Dumont, but he's expected to be on a pace close to his best season of 40. He is no where near his top form of two years ago. Satan has been implored by Ruff to take his game to the net, to use more of an aggressive style, similar to what Keenan wants from Eloranta. Maybe Ruff should use some of Keenan's tactics to get Satan's game back on track.

Then there's Gilmour. Gilmour has not been the same since just before last year's playoffs with the Philadelphia Flyers. He contacted a nasty flu virus that lasted well over a month and made him lose around 16 pounds. Since then, it appears as if that virus sucked the very life out of Gilmour. He has been plagued with back and abdominal ailments all season and definitely has retirement on his mind. The Sabres are paying him half the $6 million salary as they are splitting it with his former team, Chicago. Gilmour has a meager two goals for the money.

Curtis Brown is yet another Sabre forward to do a disappearing act this season. Expected to take up the bulk of the load now that captain Michael Peca is holding out, Brown has not even equaled his usual quota for this time of year. Brown has 5 goals and 12 assists thus far and appears to be infected by the same scoring virus that has attacked the rest of the team.

Name your player and he absolutely is not lighting the lamp. With the rest of the Buffalo forwards, Gratton is the next best with 13 goals. Then comes Stu Barnes (11), Maxim Afinogenov (9), Dave Andreychuk (9), Erik Rasmussen (8) and Vaclav Varada with 7. Goals are coming as often from Buffalo forwards as rate decreases are being handed electric and gas customers across the nation.

The Sabres goaltending situation has righted itself with the improved play of Hasek. If the Sabres don't want to fall out of playoff contention, they have got to score more than one goal per game.

Sabres Talk

The Sabres knew that they had a relatively "easy" schedule after the Toronto game last week. But considering their history against weaker teams, Buffalo should take every team seriously.

"Going into these two games, if you said we would lose both, I'd have thought you were crazy," Woolley said. "No game's easy. We proved that."

Gratton, though pleased about the team's physical play, wants to start winning games again.

"Obviously, we're pressing to win hockey games and we want to show a little more emotion and a little more passion," Gratton said. "It's a good start for us, but obviously, we didn't get the result we wanted."

Dafoe making his 19th consecutive start, is ready to go the distance if required.

"Yeah, it's possible to do that if I was called upon," said Dafoe. "I don't really think about that, I just go game-by-game. So far, everything has been great. It'd be one thing to play every game starting from Day 1, but I had a six-week break there. I'm definitely fresh after playing 18 in a row, I still feel just as good going into every game as I did at the start."

Dafoe had been injured for the first part of the season with a knee injury. He came back on December 16 and has posted a 2.05 GAA since then. Last season, Dafoe played 65 games in his rookie year and was worn out at the end of the season two years ago.

"`Looking back on that, it was new to me playing more than 45 games in a year, kind of a new mindset for me," Dafoe looked back. "I was tired. But the next year, I played 68 and felt great going into the playoffs. I've learned how to deal with it and take rest when I need it. You don't necessarily have to take a game off to get a rest."

With the win, the Bruins move one game over .500 and within 3 points of the suddenly slumping Sabres.

"The win tonight puts us into the playoffs," Keenan talked about the Bruins moving into the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference. "The expectation, the divisional win - back-to-back divisional wins - playing a team that played with some desperation. It was just a really important win for us."

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