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Sabres Central

Little Spark in Sabres' tie
By Rick Anderson
October 17, 2001

Predators right wing Scott Walker scores the first goal of the game against Sabres goalie Martin Biron while the Predators had too many men on the ice. The goal was allowed to stand even though replays proved that the goal should not have counted.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

The cards were stacked against Lindy Ruff's team. So far this season, the Buffalo Sabres have won every game.... that is every even numbered game. Buffalo lost its opener to Atlanta, then Ottawa, promptly lost to the Rangers, won against Philly, lost in Detroit and finally beat the Penguins on Sunday. This was the odd night out for Ruff's Sabres.

Another ominous sign for Ruff was the fact that his team was playing a bottom-ranked team. In Ruff's tenure with the Sabres, Buffalo has always played poorly against the weaker teams. Tuesday night, the Sabres hosted the Nashville Predators and as usual the Sabres played below the level of the weaker competition. The Predators took two surprising two goal leads against the Sabres, only to have Buffalo battle back twice and tie the game 3-3. After the Sabres dominated the overtime by outshooting the Preds 3-0, the Sabres were still satisfied that they were able to salvage a point even though they played one of their worst games of they young season.

Too many men, too lackadaisical

The Sabres knew this was not going to be their night when the Predators were allowed to skate with six attackers for a lengthy amount of time in the first period. The Sabres bench erupted in protest, yet they could not get the officials attention. With the extra illegal attacker, the Predators swarmed down on Sabres goalie Martin Biron and Vitali Yachmenev flung a pass over to Scott Walker, who put the Predators' first shot on goal past the Sabres goalie. Ruff stood up on the bench and screamed at the referees, but they turned a deaf ear to Ruff and the goal was allowed to stand. Instant replay clearly proved Ruff right, but the NHL by-laws don't allow a video judge to determine if a team had too many men on the ice. Another "no goal" controversy involving the Sabres!

Whether it was a goal or not, the Sabres still did not come back and put forth the intensity they displayed against their Pennsylvania rivals last week. Instead, they laid back, thinking that they could coast against this weak team and still come up with two points. That is the kind of thinking that Ruff has been trying to fight against since he became the coach of the Sabres. The effort the Sabres put forth in front of the 15 thousand plus at HSBC Arena was anaemic at best. Ruff was emphatic about the lack of effort.

"We don't have enough guys to call up to bench everybody," dead-panned Ruff. "I think if you look at the game, it was a collective effort. We didn't skate very well, we didn't think very well. We may have seen some of the dumbest all-time plays tonight, and worst turnovers."

The Sabres could have lost to their farm team, the Rochester Amerks the way they played Tuesday. Passes were not inches wide, but yards wide. Alexei Zhitnik was beaten to the puck in a race down the ice, not once but twice by a player who he normally could skate circles around. The defense as a whole were doing their best to resemble the Buffalo Bills beleaguered defense.

Comedy of errors

This was a game that Sabres fans want to soon forget. Ruff may want his squad to remember this game so they don't treat the Columbus Blue Jackets, their opponents Friday night, with the same lack of respect they paid the Predators.

Chris Gratton is stopped by Predators goalie Tomas Vokoun after a breakaway in the first period.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

After the goal by Walker, the Predators came up with their second goal a little later in the first period when Sabre-killer Cliff Ronning made a perfect pass across the middle to Patric Kjellberg. Kjellberg was able to scoot the puck through the small opening that Biron left between his pad and the left post. One could almost hear a pin drop in the building as the Sabres skated to center ice for the faceoff.

The Sabres continued their lifeless play into the second period, and Ruff was at wit's end on how to light a fire under them. He had long forgotten that non-call of six Predators on the ice.

"You can throw the call out the window, because if we were really upset about the call we would have played a lot harder the rest of the first period than we did," Ruff lamented. "It looked like for the most part in the first and in the second, they had six guys on all the time, and we had five. And we didn't play that well in the second, but we came up with a huge effort to tie the hockey game and really dominate for 12 minutes."

The Sabres actually got the only goal of the second stanza when Chris Gratton got his stick on a shot by Zhitnik from the point. The puck went past Predator goalie Tomas Vokoun and suddenly the Sabres were back into the game, even though they had no right to be. However, Marian Cisar scored a power-play goal with 11:53 remaining to give the Preds a commanding 3-1 lead. At that point, things looked bleak indeed for Ruff's dilatory squad.

Finally a Sabres spark

"We got kicked right in the backside there and we responded," said Sabres center Curtis Brown. "That says a lot about a hockey club. We could have just laid over and said, 'This isn't our night. Too bad, so sad.' But the group in here said, 'No, that's not the way it's going to be."

The Sabres finally got their act together and put forth an a better effort in the latter stages of the game to gain the point. Slava Kozlov got his fourth goal as a Sabre when he converted a James Patrick blast into a goal. He took the rebound of Patrick's shot and found the open corner to put the Sabres back in it again.

Then the Sabres got another lucky break, like the ones they received on Sunday against the Penguins. At the 14:26 mark of the third period, Tim Connolly was able to feed Richard Smehlik the puck as the Sabres skated into the Nashville zone. Smehlik's shot hit Kimmo Timonen's stick and beat Vokoun. That was the tying goal and the scored remained at 3-3 after the overtime period.

The Sabres can consider themselves lucky to get the point. This game had "DEFEAT" written all over it.

"I think you take it and you run away with it," said the relieved Biron after the game.

Sabres Talk

One Predator admitted that they indeed had six skaters on the ice for their first goal.

"I saw what happen," said Ronning. "That's the way the game is, but you've got to take advantage of it when it happens. Maybe sometimes we think we're going to defend a lead instead of just keep going."

Nashville goalie Vokoun agreed.

"We have to learn to play with the lead and finish teams off," Predators goaltender Tomas Vokoun said. "And we have to do it in a hurry."

Smehlik was disgusted with the defensive effort.

"There were a lot of mistakes," Smehlik admitted. "It seems like we got beat in our zone, we were running all over the place, a lot of spins in the neutral zone and we didn't finish the body. We tried to be cute all night."

Ruff could see a little glimmer of light in the otherwise dark Buffalo night.

"There was a select few guys I thought played well for us. I really thought the only line that supplied much energy was Gratton, Hamel and Ray," Ruff pointed out.

"I'm not going to make any excuses. We didn't skate very well, we didn't think very well. We may have saw some of the all-time dumbest plays tonight."


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