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Sabres Central

Sabres power smothers Flames
By Rick Anderson
November 24, 2001

Flames goalie Mike Vernon stops Maxim Afinogenov in the opening period as Flames center Rob Niedermayer comes in to help out.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

Who turned the Juice on? No, we aren't talking about O.J. Simpson here. The Buffalo Sabres suddenly discovered they could score on the powerplay against the hot Calgary Flames Friday night in HSBC Arena as they turned on the electricity against the Flames, beating them 5-2.

Buffalo ended Calgary's 10-game unbeaten streak in glorious fashion, scoring three times in the second stanza and taking a 4-0 lead early in the final period. After beating powerhouse teams Toronto and Calgary in consecutive games, the Sabres may just have found a way out of the slump that plagued them the past two weeks.

The Sabres powerplay has been a standing joke throughout the NHL the past two seasons. This year it was even worse than a season ago and it the ineptness was highlighted in the Leafs game when they had a two-man advantage for a full two minutes and couldn't even come close to scoring. Against the Flames, the Sabres score three powerplay goals. That almost equals the season's total right there.

The scoring was spread around evenly for Buffalo. Tim Connolly, J.P. Dumont, Miroslav Satan, Stu Barnes, and defenseman James Patrick scored the Sabres goals. Dumont and Satan scored for the second consecutive game. The Sabres are going to need their scoring touch if they are going to make up for lost time. Having two more losses than victories, the Sabres have a lot of catching up to do and they can't expect to score 1 goal and win games like they had in years past with Dominik Hasek.

Biron holds down the fort

The past two games, Martin Biron has kept the Sabres in the game early by making the big saves. Buffalo has lost every game it hasn't scored first in. In the first period, Biron kept the mighty offense of the Flames at bay with some spectacular saves. Biron kept the mighty Flames offense off the boards until in the third period when Steve Begin and Scott Nichol scored 19 seconds apart. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff asked the officials to go upstairs on Begin's goal as it appeared he may have redirected it in with his glove, but it was ruled otherwise as it went off his chest.

Biron really came up big for the second game in a row, especially the opening period when he made 11 saves. He finished stopping 29 of 32 shots. One problem that Biron continues to have is allowing crucial goals in the third period. He has given up 21 of the 46 goals scored against him in the third period. If Biron can play as strong in the final stanza as he does in the first, the Sabres will be in much better shape.

Biron wasn't in a panic after those two quick goals, however.

"We were confident enough," said Biron. "We settled down after they scored their two goals. We could have panicked, but we didn't. That was the key."

It is key that Biron comes out and continues his strong performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday night, as the Sabres attempt to make it three straight wins.

Power Surge

The Sabres powerplay has been anemic at best this season, following a disturbing trend that has been going on for a few seasons now. Against Toronto, Buffalo had a full two minute 2-man advantage and couldn't score. Against the Flames, however, the Sabres tallied on 3 of their 5 attempts. If this is a sign of an awakening of the powerplay, then the Sabres fans have some reason to rejoice.

Flames center Steve Begin gets the puck past Martin Biron for the Flames first goal of the game in the third period. He deflected it off his chest, as the officials went upstairs to determine if the goal was legal and it was.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

The Sabres tallied 3 times in the second stanza and Alexei Zhitnik contributed to each one. With less than a minute gone by in the second period, Zhitnik flipped the puck to J.P. Dumont, who was charging the net. He tipped it past backup goalie Mike Vernon for his 9th of the season, and second in two games.

"It was a little bit lucky, but it still counts," Zhitnik described his "pass" to Dumont which actually was his attempt to keep the puck from going outside the blue line.

Tim Connolly scored his 4th of the season about 6 minutes later when he put the puck top shelf past Vernon. It marked the Sabres first powerplay goal in 10 tries. Miroslav Satan scored Buffalo's second straight powerplay with under 9 minutes left in the period. Playing quarterback on the PP, Satan blasted his shot past Vernon for his 10th of the season.

The Sabres came out in the third period and scored yet another powerplay goal just 16 seconds in. Stu Barnes, who had gone 8 games scoreless, slapped down a rebound that was in mid-air into the net, giving the Sabres an unheard of 4-0 lead over Calgary.

The Flames made it a game again when they scored their two quick goals, but then the Sabres came back and regained their 3-goal lead when James Patrick pinched in to put the Sabres up 5-2.

With Dumont and Barnes pressing, Patrick got the puck outside the crease area and slammed it home to douse the Flames hopes once and for all.

Have the Sabres now turned it around?

That's the big question here. Is this the mark of a big Sabres surge, or will they slide back down into their lackluster ways once they start playing mediocre teams again?

The Sabres, who are known to go back into a slide after playing an exceptional game like they did against Toronto on Thanksgiving Eve, came out with an even better effort against the team with the fewest wins in the league. Shutting down the red-hot Jarome Iginla line. The phenomenal Iginla was leading the league with 19 goals and Ruff had Zhitnik out there tying him up. With the rest of the league teams scratching their heads on how to stop the all-powerful Iginla, the tape of the game will be a hot-selling item in the next few weeks.

Erik Rasmussen, who played his second straight aggressive game, was modest about his role.

"A lot of it is luck," said Rasmussen. "You can't physically shut them down all night. They're going to get one or two or three chances, maybe even more than that. You just have to do your best not to give them odd-man rushes."

Iginla didn't feel it was luck.

"You have to give them credit," replied Iginla. "They played well. But our line, we weren't good enough, we know that. I wasn't good enough."

Iginla did manage to inflict some pain on the Sabres, even if it weren't on the scoreboard. He accidently took out Curtis Brown with a wicked slap shot that Brown caught in his right eye. His eye needed 14 stitches to close the gash. It was told that the eye should be OK, but it did swell up and Brown may not play against the Penguins.

"It was a fairly severe cut," described Ruff. "In his absence, guys stepped in and played great. Erik Rasmussen did a great job against their top line and dominated physically."

Sabres Talk

Ruff was definitely upbeat after getting the second straight win over an NHL powerhouse.

"Some nights we'll get beat by goaltending," Ruff said, "but if we continue to improve the little areas (special teams is one of them) we can climb back in it."

Richard Smehlik and Alexei Zhitnik put the squeeze on Flames center Dean McAmmond in the first period.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

"I think if you look at the first period, we were very flat, probably a product of Thanksgiving yesterday," Ruff continued. "I think that once we got the goal, we got our legs back again and started to skate well. Our defense finally got up in the play."

Rasmussen cited the defensive blanket the Sabres put around Iginla and the rest of the Flames to put out the fire.

"I think the best part about that," said Rasmussen, "is we breed team defense quite well. I think every guy on our team, their responsibility, is defense first and we go from there. If we shut them down, we have a great chance to win. We've done our job."

Then he cited his young goalie who stonewalled the Flames early in the game to help the Sabres collect their legs.

"You need goaltending to stop them, too," Rasmussen said. "Marty played great.Ruff has the last (line) change and in all the situations you want to switch up your rotations, there seemed to be a whistle. There's not a whole lot you can do."

Biron talked about the game.

"There's little things we did tonight that three weeks ago we weren't doing that gave us the opportunity to score goals," said Biron. "It showed up a little bit in the Toronto game, when we were playing the system like we're supposed, dumping the goal and working really hard. Tonight, we did that for pretty much the whole game."

Rob Ray played in his 800th game as a Sabres. He reflected on his accomplishments.

"I never thought I'd play one game," Ray said. "When I first came here back in 1988, I was just going to enjoy myself for training camp and head home and work for my old man for the rest of my life. That was my attitude when I came here, and that was 13 years ago. Of all the people in the world there's only a handful that get to fulfill their dreams.

"I've been able to do that 800 times now. Every game you play is a bonus."

Calgary coach Greg Gilbert talked about the Flames first loss in 11 games.

"We just didn't perform well tonight," Gilbert said. "We had opportunities to rub them out and finish them early in the game, and we let them off the hook. If you let a team like Buffalo off the hook, they're going to come at you hard and they did that tonight."

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