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Sabres Central

Another weak goal is a Capital offense
By Rick Anderson
March 27, 2002

Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig makes big save on Sabres' forward Tim Connolly in first period action as Capitals' Nolan Yonkman comes in to take Connolly out.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

The Buffalo Sabres came out like gang busters and finished like gang victims. After taking a commanding 2-0 lead over the Washington Capitals in the most important game of the year for both teams, the Sabres allowed the Caps to chip away at the lead until it was tied. Then a blatant giveaway with under two minutes to go, allowed Chris Simon to walk in on Sabres goalie Martin Biron and blast a wicked shot squeezed through Biron’s arm and chest for the winning goal. The Caps hung on for a colossal 4-3 win that drew them even with the Montreal Canadiens for the final playoff spot.

While Biron could make the excuse that he was screened on the play, he wouldn’t accept it.

"It was a good shot, but you can't let anything go through you," said a visibly shaken Biron after the game."It's a shot I should stop. It just went under my arm. Jay played it perfect. He pulled (Simon) to the outside. It just found a way to squeeze through. You're supposed to be like a wall."

The very fact that Biron started the game caused almost as much controversy as when Bills quarterback Rob Johnson started that wild card game in Tennessee 2 years ago instead of Doug Flutie. Can you say goaltender controversy?

After playing two spectacular games, most hockey analysts would have put Mika Noronen back between the pipes. Not Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. He has always given his self-proclaimed No. 1 goalie the nod even when the backup seems to be on fire. This time it appeared as if Ruff made the wrong decision in the most crucial time of the season. He has to do a lot of backtracking and sidestepping to avoid a lot of criticism that is bound to come his way for his decision to start Biron in front of Noronen.

The Sabres have now lost 3 out of 4 games. Biron has been in the nets for all three losses and was the victim of soft, or controversial goals in all three that cost the game for Buffalo. Meanwhile, Noronen literally stole the games at Philadelphia and Ottawa.

Last Thursday, it was a fluke goal that beat Biron for the game winner when Boston forward Nick Boynton broke his stick on a shot and that must have distracted Biron as the puck went through his pads. In Toronto Saturday, Biron got tied up when he roamed behind the net trying to clear the puck and had his stick held as he desperately tried to get back into the net. Tie Domi’s shot beat Biron’s futile attempt to get back into the crease. Then, to put the final goat feather in Biron’s cap, the Caps Chris Simon beats him with a shot that most goalies never have trouble getting in front of.

Biron faced 19 shots in the game and only made 15 saves. That simply isn’t good enough in Buffalo’s desperate battle to gain a playoff spot.

"I have to step it up a notch," admitted Biron. "This is a critical time of year. I want to be the one contributing. I want to be the one making the difference.”

Simon says

Simon may have had his locks sheared off this season, but he definitely made the key play of the game, and maybe the season, for the Capitals. His goal came with just 1:58 left in the game. Brendan Witt started the winning play by poking the puck off Curtis Brown’s stick and then he got it over to Dainius Zubrus who immediately fed Simon. Simon, who used Sabres defenseman Jay McKee as a screen, shot the puck from the top of the right faceoff circle. It went over Biron’s right shoulder and the Sabres playoff hopes were trampled down once again.

"It just found it's way through the defenseman," admitted Simon. "It's a screen shot, so it's hard for the goalie to see the puck."

Simon watched the Florida Panthers beat the Montreal Canadiens afterwards from the locker room, further helping the Caps quest of securing the final playoff seed in the East.

"It was a huge win for us," elated Simon. "We talked about it before the game, we've got to worry about our team, and the way that we play. And hopefully things will fall into place for us."

Great start, horrible finish

The Sabres came out as if they were going to run up the score on the Caps. They took a 2-0 lead on goals by Taylor Pyatt and Miroslav Satan and had the Capitals running around in circles. Just when it appeared as if the Sabres had a strangle hold on the Caps, Ken Klee scored a powerplay goal at the 16:47 mark. After that, it was all Washington.

Witt tied it up at 6:38 of the second stanza and Zubrus put the Caps in the lead for the fist time with a powerplay goal right at the outset of the third period. Satan got his second powerplay tally of the night at the 5:27 mark. That was it until the big goal by Simon near the end of the game.

Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig hunkered down after those first two goals in the first period and played a solid game, making 28 saves on 31 Sabres shots. He had to be especially sharp in the final period when the Sabres blistered 15 shots on goal. Kolzig was the big difference in this game, especially when comparing him to Biron.

Sabres Talk

When Washington traded Adam Oates to the Flyers, it appeared to most that the team had conceded the season. That has been proven to be just the opposite as the Capitals have won 5 of their 6 games and they have survived a road trip from Hell.

"All I've read is that the Caps have officially given up on the season," went on Caps coach Ron Wilson. "But nobody in here has given up. There's no surrender."

In the other dressing room, Ruff was licking his wounds and trying to make the best of a terrible decision to start Biron over Noronen.

"We have to pick up the pieces," Ruff said. "We're still right there. We can still do some damage."

It may be too late for Ruff and his inconsistent Sabres. They had the Capitals on the ropes and not only let them get the noose off their necks, but they promptly put the Sabres on the ropes.

The atmosphere after the game in the locker room was gloomy to say the least.

"It was dead in the room," Ruff described the spirits in the locker room. "I think when we walked in afterward, when you put that much effort into a game and you lose, it sucked a lot of wind out of the building. We have to pick up the pieces."

Biron knew that he let his teammates down and accepted full responsibility for the bad goal.

"It was a situation where I felt like I was in position to make a play and I didn't do it," admitted Biron. "You can talk to any goalie in the league; you hate to see goals going through you. You want to give them the post if they want it, but letting it get by you is something you don't want. It was unfortunate."

"It's critical," Biron described the Sabres situation. "This is the thing we're battling against right now. To give them two like that is tough to bounce back from. We've had help around the league to get where we're at right now. We'll need a little bit more."

Ruff is still sticking by his proclaimed No. 1 goalie and is likely to start him again Thursday night in St. Louis.

"It's a building process for Marty," described Ruff. "He's never been here before. It's something you've got to support. You've got to help him. There were games he's won for us and games he'd definitely like to have back and goals in certain games."


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