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Sabres Central

Sharks eat Sabres alive
By Rick Anderson
January 10, 2001

The San Jose Sharks, in first place in the Pacific Division, came out for blood in the first period scored the first two goals and cruised to a 2-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres have never won a game in San Jose, going 0-4-4. It's a house of horrors for Sabres coach Lindy Ruff and his squad.

Sharks rookie goalie sensation Evgeni Nabokov stops Doug Gilmour after the veteran Sabres center takes a shot in the first period. The Sharks beat the Sabres 2-1.
[AP Photo/Paul Sakuma]

"We haven't had a lot of luck here," Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff said. "It's definitely a building we don't want to come back to."

Ruff started Martin Biron in goal as a reward for his two straight shutouts. However, it wasn't long before his shutout string was broken when Niklas Sundstrom scored the first shorthanded goal against the Sabres all season at the 6 minute mark. With Brad Stuart off for high sticking, the Sabres went on the powerplay, but it seemed as if the Sharks had the man advantage as they kept the Sabres off balance the whole two minutes. Biron had to make a couple of stops during the powerplay and Alexei Zhitnik made one of the biggest giveaways of the season when he stumbled and lost the puck when he skated in front of Biron as he tried to skate the puck out of the Sabres zone. Mike Ricci had a ten foot two-on-none breakaway on Biron and slipped the puck over to Sundstrom. Biron tried to poke the puck away from Sundstrom, but fell down to his knees, giving Sundstrom a huge target to shoot at and he lifted the puck over Biron and into the net.

"Maybe I was a little too aggressive," said Biron, who had 18 saves. "I didn't get enough wood on it. I should have stayed back."

The score remained 1-0 until the Sharks went on a powerplay less than 6 minutes later. Owen Nolan notched his 14th when he got a hard shot off that rang off the post and behind Biron, making it 2-0.

The Sabres got right back into the contest 28 seconds later when Chris Gratton picked up his 11th of the season when he took a wrist shot that somehow managed to get through the pads of Sharks' rookie sensation Evgeni Nabokov. From that point on, Nabokov put the clamps on the Sabres, shutting them down the rest of the way. He made 22 saves and was tested several times by the Sabres marksmen.

Battle of the goalies

Nabokov was starting in place of former Sabres goalie Steve Shields, who had won his last two games. But the NHL's November and December rookie of the month, looked extremely sharp in the nets and won the battle of the young goalies over Biron.

Goalie interference! Gary Suter decides to push Martin Biron Sabres backup goalie into the net during first period action. He got a four-minute penalty for his West Coast hospitality. The Sabres were unable to score on the powerplay and went 0-7 for the game with a man advantage.>
[AP Photo/Paul Sakuma]

"I try to be consistent every game, no matter who we're playing or what the score is," Nabokov explained. "The key is when our forwards are working really hard up the ice and our defensemen are working hard on the penalty-kill. We got a great effort on defense tonight."

The Sharks are now five points ahead of the Dallas Stars and are looking to continue their roll through the second half of the season.

"If you would have asked us at the beginning of the season if we would take this position (in the standings), we would have been all over it," Nolan said.

Buffalo went 0 out of 7 powerplay attempts in the game. It is something that really irritated Ruff.

"We had eight or nine chances after the first period, but our finesse players didn't perform for us," said Ruff. "We get into little funks. It's something we have to pay attention to."

Healthy Hasek rides the pine

Dominik Hasek was not too happy a camper for having to sit two straight games. It marked the first such occasion since the 1997-98 season that he was benched for two straight games while healthy.

"We didn't know for sure until (game day), but it was no big surprise," said Hasek. "I won't change anything. There are two more games on the road trip. I hope I play at least one of the next two games. I just spend more time on the ice for practice and wait for my next chance."

Ruff feels for Hasek, but he has to do what's best for the team.

"I don't think (he's) is happy that he's not playing, and I don't think he should be," put in Ruff. "It's his competitive nature. I explained to him that in the scale we've been operating with, Marty has two shutouts and he deserves to play another game."

"I think (he) looks at it as a challenge. Marty has issued a challenge. Marty has played well. What we've got is a great situation. I think there are 15 teams in the league that would like to trade the situation we got for the situation they got."

Shades of the potency that the Bills had at quarterback with Rob Johnson and Doug Flutie. Too bad Wade Phillips didn't have the vision that Ruff seems to have on the situation, or he might still be the Bills head coach.

"I'm not playing, so you have to work harder on the ice," contended Hasek. "You have to at least compete in the practice. Of course, I would compete before, but you take it even more serious because it's the only time you can compete today."

Hasek is likely to be back in the nets against the Los Angeles Kings for Thursday's game. The competition may just do Hasek a world of good, as he has not performed at the level that he and the rest of the hockey world are used to seeing.

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