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Sabres Central

Two goals in first minute dooms Sabres against Pens
By Rick Anderson
March 28, 2001

It certainly wasn't the way that Sabres goaltender Martin Biron wanted to start off the game. Allowing two goals in the first minute is a goaltender's worst nightmare, especially against as explosive a team like the Pittsburgh Penguins. But that's exactly what Biron did in his worst showing in years in goal and it set the way for a 4-1 Pittsburgh shellacking of the Buffalo Sabres in Mellon Arena.

Stu Barnes gets off a shot on Johann Hedberg, but Hedberg is able to make the stop.
[AP Photo]

Biron has not seen too much action as of late. That could be his only excuse as he allowed very stoppable shots get past him before the game was a minute old. Hans Jonsson rifled a shot from close to the point that Biron saw all the way. Somehow it beat the 24 year old goalie. Mario Lemieux was credited with an assist after he got the puck back to Jonsson. Only twelve seconds later, Martin Straka shot towards the net, but it went off Robert Lang and past the befuddled Sabres goalie to suddenly put the Penguins up 2-0 and there was still a second left in the first minute.

"That first minute was just a killer," admitted Biron.

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff would have been wise to shake up the goaltending right there and put Dominik Hasek, who had a shutout the night before, back into goal. However, he decided to keep the Sabres backup in and give Hasek a well deserved rest. Biron would only face 3 more shots in the period and 18 shots over all, but would allow 2 more goals. It was by far the worst performance the Sabres backup goalie has had this season. Ruff would be wise to send him down to the Sabres' AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans for some needed conditioning. If Hasek goes down for any reason from this point on, the Sabres will need a sharp Biron. That he was not Tuesday in Pittsburgh and as a result, the Penguins are sneaking up the ladder in an attempt to catch the Sabres for the 5th place spot. Both Buffalo and Pittsburgh have played 76 games and the Pens are now only 3 back of the Sabres, with both teams having 6 games left on their regular season plates.

The Sabres lost the season series to the Penguins 3 games to 1. If anything, they don't want to face any team that hails from Pennsylvania during the post season, as they are 6-1 against the Philly/Pitt combo. The Flyers pose even more difficulty for the Sabres as they have scored only one goal against them in 3 games. If Pittsburgh catches and overtakes the Sabres in the standings, they may be doing them a backhanded favor, as it would then put the Penguins in a first round matchup with their state rivals.

Pens continue to pour it on Biron

Biron's troubles did not end after the first minute to play. The Sabres backup goalie was beaten badly in the second period when Bill Tibbetts found Kevin Stevens on a breakaway. Eric Rasmussen had no chance to catch the streaking Stevens, and Biron was unable to stop his shot and suddenly the Pens were up 3-0 and it was lights out for the Sabres.

Alexei Zhitnik attempts to slow down Penguins superstar Mario Lemieux.
[AP Photo]

The Sabres did manage to get a goal, as Dave Andreychuk notched his 18th of the season on a powerplay, but it was much too little much too late. The Sabres were unable to break through a newly employed "trap system" that the Penguins have begun to use the past two games.

Approved by owner Lemieux, the Penguins have concocted a "left wing lock" which uses a forward as a third defenseman. On top of that, the Penguins employed their version of a neutral zone trap, even though there will be some arguments about this actually being a trap. Whatever it was, it worked to perfection against the Sabres. Buffalo was only able to get off 19 shots against rookie goalie Johan Hedberg, and the Sabres are back into their scoring funk once again.

"We were getting desperate because teams were starting to chase us from behind," said Martin Straka about the Penguins employing their new trapping system. "When we play a system, teams can't open it up against us."

Even Mario put his rubber stamp of approval on the two new gimmicks the Pens have put into their game plan.

"It's only two games, but we have to keep winning and prepare ourselves for the playoffs," said Lemieux.

Ruff has got to get the Sabres snipers scoring again if they want any chance in the playoffs. If they cannot score more than one goal against a defensively destitute team who has a rookie goalie, then they might as well start polishing up their golf clubs now. Trap or no trap, left wing lock or no lock, the Sabres forwards have got to manage more than one goal per game if they want to play hockey at the end of April. Steve Heinze, who was hot in his first week as a Sabre since they acquired him from Columbus in a trade, has suddenly settled into his environment nicely, with no goals since. Donald Audette, who had 32 goals before coming to Buffalo from Atlanta, only has managed one so far. The other permanent fixtures on offense have been shooting blanks as of late.

After Andreychuk's goal, the Pens came back and made it a three goal game again when Jagr scored his 44th of the season on a tip-in shot that got past Biron on a powerplay 5:04 into 3rd period.

Sabres Talk

Biron talked about his horrendous start.

"That's tough when you give a team like Pittsburgh an opportunity to go up 2-0 in the first period," said Biron. "It's tough to come back. They kept it simple and waited for their opportunities after that. I don't know what happened on the first two goals, what I could have done different."

Ruff also knew instantaneously that those two quick goals would be hard to get back.

"You dig yourself a hole," Ruff said. "You give up two goals in that period of time, it's tough to get back."

Ruff also had a problem with the officiating in the game, especially in the second period when they were given 5 penalties. He was so incensed that ran over to the referees at game's end and gave them a piece of his mind. That resulted in Ruff getting a game misconduct, which could cost him some fines when the NHL reviews the case.

"That was ridiculous," Ruff said about the officiating. "I thought some of the calls were ridiculous." He added about the Pens new defensive scheme, "The left-wing lock didn't have a whistle in his mouth."

Andreychuk also had some qualms about the officiating.

"They don't want to be the difference in the game, but tonight they didn't give us much of a chance," said Andreychuk.

Curtis Brown was pulverized against the boards by Jonsson in the second period and nothing was called. Steve Heinze came to Brown's defense and was given the gate instead.

"All year long they call things like that. When guys do do it, for the most part that guy is penalized," Brown said of Jonsson's hit. "I get up, shake the cobwebs off, and all of a sudden you've got to kill a penalty. It was a double whammy."

Hedberg wanted to make the most of every opportunity in goal for the Penguins. He knows that Garth Snow may be back into the lineup soon.

"Every game for me is an opportunity because I didn't expect to get this chance this season," admitted Hedberg. "You want to make the most of the chance to play."

Lemieux was asked about his ailing back.

‘It's feeling great," said Lemieux. "I'm doing a new program which is a stretching program. I started two weeks ago and it is working very well. It's been helping my back quite a bit and should be ready for the playoffs."

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