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Sabres Central

Two straight goose eggs for Biron
By Rick Anderson
January 7, 2001

Mr. Dominik Hasek, somebody's knocking at your door. It's Martin Biron and he wants to take over your spot manning the pipes for the Buffalo Sabres. Biron recorded his second consecutive shutout as the Sabres trimmed the Nashville Predators 2-0.
Richard Smehlik attempts to get past Predators center David Legwand in first period action.
[AP Photo/Mark Humphrey]

The last game Biron played in, exactly a week ago in Long Island, Buffalo won by an identical 2-0 score. In fact, the Sabres have won three 2-0 games in 8 days

Biron made 29 saves Saturday night in Nashville. He wasn't called upon to make "spine like a slinky" saves, but he was very solid in the nets, something that Hasek has had a hard time doing this year. Biron didn't give up the big rebounds and didn't make any crucial mistakes that have plagued Hasek. It was Biron's second shutout of the season and his seventh in his brief NHL career.

When asked if his two consecutive shutouts could get him some more playing time, Biron responded, "Well maybe. Every time you play a game you don't want to think about what's going to happen ahead. But every time you get some good games you want to get back in net as soon as possible."

Gratton finally gets his goal

After being denied a goal in the first game of the Sabres-Leafs mini-series because the ref deemed that he was blocking the view of Curtis Joseph while in the crease, Christ Gratton made up for that against the Predators.

Just like in the Toronto game, Gratton had positioned himself in the crease. However, this time he wasn't being squeezed between a defenseman and the goalie. Gratton stood on the very edge of the crease, forcing Nashville goalie Mike Dunham to move his head in an attempt to see where the puck was. Richard Smehlik took a wrist shot while stationed in the high slot and Gratton was fortunate enough to be able to tip it past Dunham for his 10th of the season.

"As soon it went in, I thought it was very similar to the other night," Gratton admitted, hoping that this one wouldn't be taken away. "It was a great shot by Smehlly there. We've been working on that in practice. It was important. We wanted to get a quick start in their building."

That 1-0 lead held up until the very end of the second stanza. J.P. Dumont scooped up the puck in the neutral zone and after getting into the Predator zone, flipped a pass over to Stu Barnes. Barnes came in on Dunham's right side, got off a shot that the Predator goalie stopped. Barnes stood his ground, waiting for any possible rebound. When it came, he quickly banged it high over the goalie's stick for his 9th goal. The tally came at 19:16 of the period and put the Sabres in a great position going into the final period.

"I think it handcuffed him," Barnes explained. "He was probably surprised by how weak of a backhand it was. I just got the rebound, took a whack at it and it went in. I can't even say I was aiming the rebound."

Quarterback/goalie controversies

Buffalo sports fans had to endure the entire Buffalo Bills football season with a heated quarterback controversy that seemed to not only divide the fans but tore the football team in half. Now, with Biron's great play in goal and the continued inconsistency of Hasek, there is a chance a new controversy could be rearing its ugly head. Not so with Biron.

"You know, being in this position and having a guy like Dom, your starting goalie, it's a no-brainer most of the nights," Biron defended his mentor. "He's been just unbelievable the last two games against Toronto, he was really great. Even this morning we were practicing, he was stopping everybody. Guys were frustrated with him. Just to show that he's on his game too."

Even though Biron was doing his best to prevent a Bills-like controversy, there was no getting around the fact that he was enjoying his time in the sun.

"You've got Dom, the best goaltender in the world, and me, trying to make a name for myself," said Biron. "But I can't deny I'm enjoying it. Maybe because I play less, I'm fresher when I do get in."

Hasek has had a topsy-turvy season thus far. He has gotten into a hot and cold cycle that he just can't seem to shake. Either age or nagging injuries are preventing him from regaining his Vezina form. With the season almost half over, it is getting more apparent that this is all the Sabres are going to get from Hasek. He can be a better than average goalie and help them win if he gets adequate support, but he no longer can single-handily steal games for the Sabres. Biron may be a way to gracefully steer the Dominator into the sunset.

Biron cages the Predators

The Sabres finally were on the good end of a "no goal" call. The Predators appeared to have tied up the game 16:55 of the first period when Scott Hartnell poked in the puck through Biron's pads after Biron had blocked Richard Lintner's initial slap shot . However, referee Greg Kimmerly lost his sight of the puck and assumed that Biron had it covered, so he blew his whistle.

"I think it might have been a quick whistle," quipped Hartnell, which has to be rated as the understatement of the New Year.

Chris Gratton, who finally got a goal ending a 13-game scoreless streak, puts the hurts on Predators center Greg Johnson in the first period.
[AP Photo/Mark Humphrey]

During the fray in the crease, Biron also got injured and it appeared that Hasek would have to come in. But after a couple minutes, Biron got back on his feet and did a credible job the rest of the way.

Biron showed that he has one of the quickest glove in the East when he stopped Greg Johnson, who had gone in on a breakaway in the second period. Biron snared the shot with his catching mitt like a first baseman trying to pick off the runner.

The Sabres goalie also made a great pad save at 12:29 of the second period when Scott Walker rifled a blast from the left circle. Late in the game, Biron preserved his shutout when he shutdown Hartnell.

The on-ice officials game the home team three third period power plays that could have easily played a role in this game had the Sabres penalty killing unit not been up to the task. With their 6 minutes of having a man advantage, the Predators could only muster 2 shots on net, much to Biron's relief.

"I didn't have any jitters," Biron relayed. "I felt comfortable. There were things tonight that I did that I wasn't doing earlier in the season. Sometimes I try to be more aggressive. I think I was comfortable staying back and waiting for the play to develop in front of me."

Now the big question is whether Sabres coach Lindy Ruff will come right back with his hot hand in goal when the Sabres play in San Jose Tuesday night. If not, Biron surely should get another game in during the Sabres west coast swing. They play the LA Kings on Thursday and at Anaheim on Friday to end their four game road trip.

Said Ruff about the possibility of going right back with Biron, "Back-to-back shutouts, obviously we have to give it more thought now."

Sabres Talk

After the emotional and highly physical mini-series between the Sabres and the Leafs, one would have to expect a let down from the Sabres, especially after having to take a flight right after Friday night's game to Nashville. Ruff gave his team kudos for coming up big even when the excuse was there for the taking.

"That was a really big effort," lauded Ruff. "In the second period, we came out and dominated. Biron made a few key saves, but overall it was a heck of an effort. We didn't give them too much on transition."

"There were a lot of good things in the game," Ruff continued. "It really sets us in the right direction. We've got some tough buildings to play in. It isn't kind going out there."

Barnes, who has been having one of his best seasons despite not scoring a ton of goals, knew the team would have to dig down and come up with an extra effort.

"Our job is to be at our best every night or the closest we can be to our best," Barnes said. "We mentioned it before the game. The guys were saying it was such an emotional series against Toronto that we didn't want to have a letdown."

Biron was quick to give full credit to the defense, which stood up to every challenge during the game.

"Lindy mentioned it after the game that it was one of the best games we've played defensively," Biron said. "We only gave them two or three chances in the first two periods. The third period we played pretty well counting that they were going to open the game up a little bit. Their forwards were coming hard, their D was coming down the boards, so we did a really good job on the boards. We didn't give them that much."

Goaltenders are extremely fussy about their equipment. If a pad or a skate isn't just right, it could completely throw their game off. Biron had problems with his right skate during the morning practice and it was bothering him right up until game time.

"Last night after the game I asked Rip, our trainer, to sharpen my skates for the morning skate," Biron described. "When we got here, my right skate kept slipping off. There are two edges, the inside edge and the outside edge. My inside edge has got to be catching the ice really good, so (when) it's planted, if there's a pass or something, I can push really quick to the outside. My right skate had no inside edge. It was brutal. We did it twice this morning, I had to get off the ice twice. We thought it was alright, we got to the game tonight and it was bad again. I did the warmup, got out...and I hate to take all my equipment off between periods or before the first period. I had to do it. Good thing Rip is the best at his job, he got it straightened away in his own way. It worked pretty good for the first period."

When asked about how that didn't seem to deter him from his concentration, Biron said, "One thing you want to do is to get yourself out of bed in the morning, get your routine going, but you want to check your equipment. I knew that there was a problem, so all afternoon I was trying to focus away from the problem, away from my skate maybe being something that I had to keep in mind the whole game. And I think it makes you focus twice as hard when you have some problems. Sometimes guys are sick, guys have a knee hurt or a shoulder hurt and they focus twice as hard because they know they have to give an extra effort."

The goalie at the other end of the ice, gave Biron full marks.

"Their goalie played really well," Dunham said. "They got some timely goals, and they kind of let their goaltender make some saves and clear some pucks out of there."

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