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Sabres Central

Sabres feed garbage to the Sharks
By Rick Anderson
October 24, 2001

Erik Rasmussen and Sharks center Mark Ricci go at it in the final period of a 4-1 Sabres victory.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

The art of garbage goal collection. That is a true art indeed. Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has been trying for years to teach his players the fine craft of scoring garbage goals. One of the most important facets of collecting such goals is just shooting on net every chance one gets. It may have taken years, but the Sabres players are finally listening to Ruff. Tuesday night in HSBC Arena was a perfect example of the graduation of the garbage men, as the Sabres collected 3 out of their 4 goals with the exquisite techniques Ruff has taught them and beat the San Jose Sharks 4-1 in the process. It may have been garbage in, but the Sabres will take any goals that come their way these days.

Not only has Ruff been harping about shooting more, but so have the fans. Hardly one Buffalo powerplay goes by at home without the fans screaming at the top of their lungs "SHOOT, SHOOT, SHOOT!" Now it seems the Sabres marksmen are finally listening. Goals by Vaclav Varada, Tim Connolly and Rhett Warrener were all scores that would make Phil Esposito proud. Only the goal by Maxim Afinogenov could be classified as a "decent" goal, and that may even get an argument.

Just get it on net

That seems to be the key word for this year's edition of the Buffalo Sabres. Throw the puck at the goalie and good things can happen. Just ask Slava Kozlov, the man the Sabres acquired from the Detroit Red Wings for Dominik Hasek. Kozlov, who prides himself on getting the fancy goal, has become the King of Garbage for the Sabres. Four of the five goals he has scored so far this season have been fluky to say the least. One went off the back of the goalie when he stood behind the net and intended a pass out in front. The very same game, he got another wild deflection past the bewildered goalie. On this night against the Sharks, Kozlov didn't get any wacky goals, he had shone the way and the rest of his new teammates were following the brazen path he had made.

Vaclav Varada, who played an aggressive game for the Sabres, opened the scoring in the second period by taking a knuckleball shot at Sharks goalie Miikka Kiprusoff. The puck fluttered up over the goalie's shoulder and surprised the announced crowd of 17,653 when it went to the back of the net.

Connolly took only two shots on net Tuesday night, and one of them went in. The player the Sabres got in exchange for Michael Peca, has impressed the fans with his speed and agility, along with quick hands. But he has hesitated in shooting more often. Prompted by Ruff to shoot more, Connolly was able to retrieve the puck along the right boards, skated into the right faceoff circle and flipped a wrist shot that deflected off Kiprusoff's catching glove. Buffalo suddenly had a 2-0 lead on two shots that normally would be easy saves for a veteran NHL goalie. But 2-0 it was and the Sabres weren't complaining.

"They scored two soft goals on us," Sharks coach Darryl Sutter bemoaned. "It's tough. That's really surprising for Kipper. We really couldn't generate anything after that."

In the third period, the Sabres got an NHL quality goal by Afinogenov. Chris Gratton got Afinogenov going as he fed him with a perfect pass and Maxim flew down the ice, giving the crowd an exhibition of his superb skating abilities. Afinogenov took a blast that went over Kiprusoff shoulder and the Sabres we up 3-0.

That elusive first shutout

Martin Biron has been playing exceptional goaltending as of late. But for some reason, he just can't nail down his first shutout of the season. The thing that gets him is that his shutout bid is always shattered late in the game. This time, the Sharks broke the ice with three minutes and change remaining in the contest.

Sabres goalie Martin Biron, who came one shot short of recording his first shutout of the season, uses his head ala "The Dominator" during the first period against the San Jose Sharks. The Sabres won 4-1.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

Marco Sturm was the Shark to do the dirty deed, as he scored when the Sabres couldn't get the puck out of their zone. Getting the puck at the right point, Sturm rifled a shot that sailed through a screen of players and past Biron. The air was let out of HSBC Arena with Sturm's goal. The kid in goal had played a brilliant game, especially in the first period when he kept the Sabres in the game, stopping all 10 shot by the Sharks. Biron made 19 saves in all and appears to be filling the void left by the departure of the Dominator quite well.

"It's flattering for the team any time you can stop every puck," said Biron. "I think the guys would've enjoyed a shutout."

Warrener added the fourth Sabres goal when the Sharks pulled their goalie late in the game and Warrener skirted the puck right down the middle into the open net to finish off the Sharks.

Sabres Talk

The victory marked the first time the Sabres have won two games in a row this season. It also put them in sole possession of first place in the Northeast Division.

"I thought we came out and applied a lot of puck pressure," Ruff said. "The risk of applying pressure is a couple of odd-man situations, and I think early on we got a couple of real big saves out of Marty. In the second period we started to take over."

"With those guys, you have to know where they are on the ice, and you have to take a little bit of extra caution," McKee said of San Jose's offensive stars. "You have to battle them down low and not give them inside chances."

There was a span of over a period where the Sharks didn't get a shot on goal. From the halfway point in the second period until a little over 8 minutes left in the third period, the Sharks had lost their bite. For 22:06, Biron had to talk to himself in the crease to prevent from going to sleep.

"One of the toughest things for a goaltender is to go that long," Ruff admitted, "and then (San Jose) had a couple shifts where they started pinching hard."

"Early on we got a couple real big saves out of Marty, and in the second period we started to take the game over. After the first period, we only gave up six chances the entire night."

Sabres captain Stu Barnes likes the feel of the team this year.

"You can feel it when you see line after line, defense pairing after defense pairing and Marty making huge saves," Barnes said. "You can feel it as they're rolling the lines, and the guys are going out and giving it their all and playing so hard. You get a sense of how everybody's working together and working for each other. It's what makes us dangerous. In the past, any time we've been successful is when we have the scoring spread out and everybody making plays. That's what makes us so strong is our depth."

Ruff is satisfied with the Sabres October so far.

"We wanted to get off to a good start, and we're off to a good start," lauded Ruff. "We gave some points away. With a little more timely scoring we easily could have beaten Columbus , and we should have beat Atlanta. But we didn't. We've still got ourselves in decent shape, though."

In the other locker room, Sutter was talking about what the Sharks needed to do to win and failed at it.

"I knew going in that we needed to have a really good first period, and we had the scoring chances," Sutter said. "The thing is that if you score your goals early, then you stick to your system and get your goaltending, those are the games you kind of steal."

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