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Sabres Central

Sens winless streak continues in Buffaloís House of Horrors
By Rick Anderson
March 20, 2002

Sabres center Chris Gratton gets tied up with Senators Daniel Alfredsson in second period action. Gratton scored and had 2 assists in the big Sabres 5-1 victory.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

The Ottawa Senators hate to come to Buffalo. They havenít won in HSBC Arena since December 30, 1998, and it took overtime for them to beat the Sabres. Andreas Dackell scored 2:24 into the sudden death to give the Senators their last victory in Buffalo. After that game, the Sens and Sabres played to 3 straight 1-1 ties. Then the losses started to be racked up and Ottawa hasnít won since. Tuesday night, they were completely dominated on the scoreboard as Buffalo beat them 5-1. Speak about getting your heads handed back to you, the Senators certainly havenít found their Sabres hosts too friendly the last 3 years.

"It sounds weird, but this was probably one of our better games in here," reflected Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson, who spoiled Martin Bironís shutout bid. "We created a lot of chances offensively, but Biron played really well. Overall, I thought we had a pretty solid game."

The few Senators fans who were in attendance would have plenty to argue about with Alfredsson.

The Sabres came out strong and Brian Campbell scored the first goal 9:56 into the first period on a long shot that fooled Senators goalie Patrick Lalime. Chris Gratton continued his hot streak by scoring his 11th goal of the season. Dmitri Kalinin got a pass over to Gratton all alone to the right of Lalime and he slammed it home.

During his torrid streak, Gratton has netted 6 in 10 games. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff pleaded his case to Sabres GM Darcy Regier to not trade him as rumored all season now that Stu Barnes is out of 2 weeks with a concussion.

"I knew it was going to have to be one heck of a deal for us to trade him because of the way he's playing," implied Ruff. "With the way he's playing, he can be a factor for us, and I thought he was a factor tonight."

Gratton, who had his first 3-point game in his Sabres career, was happy all those rumors were laid to rest and he will continue his season in Buffalo.

"The rumors and stuff, hopefully, they're forgotten and now we can move on," admitted Gratton. "I don't think many guys slept today. You're waiting for your phone to ring and you're hoping that it doesn't. It's a big relief, and now we can settle down, hunker in here and really focus on making these playoffs."

"The first part of the year was frustrating. I felt like I had more to give, and I just wasn't helping out. That's frustrating for anybody. Now things are going a little better, and I'm starting to find a little niche here and enjoying it."

The Sabres forged ahead 3-0 on a wild play. The Sabres were shorthanded late in the second stanza and Vaclav Varada broke in with Curtis Brown on a 2-on-1. Varada put a shot on Lalime and it trickled through his legs and slowly was heading towards the goal line when Brown helped it along and pushed it into the net. That was the back-breaker for the Sens.

Miroslav Satan and Ales Kotalik, the rookie called up from Rochester, rounded off the scoring in the third period after Alfredssonís powerplay goal. Biron withstood 34 shots and allowed only that one, while Lalime made 19 stops in the loss.

Smallest crowd of the season

With the Sabres not getting anything of significance at the trading deadline and the teamís inconsistent play this season, the Sabres fans are starting to voice their frustrations by staying home. The game attracted the smallest regular season crowd of the season, as only 13,381 showed up for a crucial game for the Sabres. With the Sabres management not making any moves during the season to booster a club that had traded away its only stars, fans now have a legit gripe against the teamís GM and ownership. If nothing is done to improve the Sabres chances of being competitive, why should the fan shell out big bucks for tickets that cost more than when the team actually was a contender? In other words, if owner John Rigas wonít spend his money, neither will the fans. It will be very interesting to see how many season ticket holders renew their seats. It could give Rigas quite a shock.

Token trade

Every year, Regier waits until the very last minute to make any kind of moves. He did it with the Michael Peca and Dominik Hasek trades, he did it this season, not making any transactions until the last minutes before the trading deadline. What he acquired supposedly addresses the need to have a special teams player to help kill penalties since Barnes will be gone for awhile. The Sabres acquired former Sabre Bob Corkum from Atlanta for a 5th round draft choice in 2002. Regier shouldnít have bothered. Corkum, who is 35 and has a +/- rating of Ė30 is not what the Sabres really need right now. What they needed was help right after Thanksgiving, but Regier was patient to a fault and his token trade is a slap in the face to the fans.

Sabres Talk

The Sens, who were battling for first overall in the East, are happy they donít have to return to HSBC Arena this year. They are going to focus on the remainder of the season and try to slot themselves in a good spot for the playoffs.

"Obviously, it's an opportunity lost, but we can't get caught too far ahead," said Alfredsson. "We're playing some hungry teams, but we're pretty hungry, too. Today it was a matter of getting the bounces. They got up early, and we had to go for it coming from behind."

Gratton was nervously watching the clock all day until it was revealed that he had survived the deadline and was still a Sabre.

"Stared at the clock, watched the ticker on ESPN and watched the clock tick by," admitted Gratton. "It was a long, long afternoon. It was a tense day. When it comes down to the last couple hours, I don't think many guys slept today. You're waiting for your phone to ring and you're hoping it doesn't."

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about (being shuffled out of Buffalo)," admitted Gratton said. "I've known all year I haven't had all that great of a year. I knew I was teetering on them making a decision. So I'm fortunate and happy that I was able to stay."

Kotalik was a happy recipient of a Gratton play that netted him his first NHL goal. Gratton bulled his way down into Senator territorty, using his big frame like a fullback bursting through the line, and then he passed to Kotalik who found an empty net starring at him.

"It was a great play by Chris Gratton," lauded Kotalik. "It was an easy play because I just had to put the puck in the empty net. All the effort put into my goal he did. It was my dream from the first time I played hockey to score a goal in the NHL. Now it's happened. I will remember this situation for a long time, until the end of my life. I can just give thanks to Chris Gratton for that. It was a dream come true."

Ruff praised the play of Biron in the nets.

"If you want to talk about turning points, he made the saves we needed that turned momentum," Ruff said. "He made a couple spectacular saves in the third period and - bang - we go down the ice and score a goal. I thought he made a couple saves on deflections that were outright great. If we're going to win we're going to need fabulous goaltending, and I thought we got that tonight."

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