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Sabres Central

Sabres Thrashed in opener
By Rick Anderson
October 5, 2001

It was the dawning of the "Rob Johnson era" when the Buffalo Bills entered this season. The Bills have yet to win a game under the direction of Rob Johnson. On Thursday night, the Buffalo Sabres also entered a new era. Some are proclaiming it as the "Martin Biron era," while others are withholding judgement. Either way, the Sabres are following in the Bills footsteps in losing their opening game of the season. Against the Atlanta Thrashers, they could not generate enough offense to light a 20 watt light bulb, let alone a goal light as the Thrashers upset the Sabres 2-1 in Buffalo's own building.

The newly appointed captain of the Buffalo Sabres, Stu Barnes, does battle with Thrashers' Daniel Tjarnqvist in the third period. Atlanta beat the Sabres in the season opener, 2-1.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

Johnson replaced the ever popular Doug Flutie at quarterback for the Bills this season. The Bills are 0-3. If the Sabres lose Saturday against the Ottawa Senators and the Bills lose against the Jets Sunday, the two teams will have a combined 0-6 record. With all the doom and gloom coming out of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Buffalo fans need something to cheer them up. Their sports teams are not what the doctor prescribed.

Against the Thrashers it was a case of the very young team beating the young team. With 4 rookies in their lineup to go along with a dozen others who had under 3 years experience, the Thrashers looked like the more mature club compared to the Sabres. It was the first time in their three year history that Atlanta won its opening game.

Thrasher coach Curt Fraser was buoyant after the season-opening contest.

"This is a good win to get under their belts and show them, `Hey, you know what? You can do well."' proclaimed Fraser. "We looked like the team that we all hoped we could be." Biron, who is now the man in the Buffalo crease, looked tentative during his first game as the heir of Dominik Hasek's throne. Atlanta's first goal could have been stopped if he hadn't gone down early, and the second Atlanta goal he surely wished he could have back.

Biron made 18 saves in the dawning of his era. Meanwhile, at the other end of the ice, an even younger goalie, Milan Hnilicka, made 28 saves and was only 17 seconds away from recording his 3rd NHL shutout. Jason Woolley spoiled his bid for the goose egg when he stuffed the puck past Hnilicka in a wild scramble in front of the net. Originally the referee said "no goal" but after a discussion with the other officials, reversed his decision and it ruined Hnilicka perfect game.

Biron, who admitted that he would have butterflies before fulfilling his dream of finally replacing the Dominator, looked shaky in his first start. But he wasn't the only Sabre who squeezing his stick too tight. The Sabres got off 28 shots on goal and had a total of 8 power plays. Only the Woolley goal finally cracked that slump. The Sabres tried to make the pretty play and impress the opening night crowd of 16,112, but it often backfired as their passes were often off target as were their shots.

Buffalo had some great chances but maybe it was the opening night adrenalin that caused the Sabres to shoot so erratically.

The Sabres finally settled on who would wear the "C" this season. The popular and gritty Stu Barnes was an overwhelming favorite for the captaincy by both the players and coaches. Michael Peca, who was traded to the New York Islanders this summer, was a hold out last season and Sabres coach Lindy Ruff refused to give the "C" to any other player. Now with Peca gone, Ruff decided that Barnes was his man. Barnes was thrilled with the honor, but was discouraged by the team's first game with him at the helm.

"We're not going to score pretty goals," said the Sabres new captain. "We've got to get the pucks on net with people in front. We did a few things a little fancier than we wanted."

The game turned out to be a battle of the young goalies and Hnilicka won by a landslide. In the third period, Hnilicka made his best save when he kicked a shot by Slava Kozlov from close range early in the third period.

Biron, meanwhile, allowed two goals that could have been stopped. Rookie Dany Heatley fed in the right faceoff circle Frantisek Kaberle 8 minutes into the first period and Kaberle floated a knuckle ball over Biron's right shoulder and into the net. From that point on, it was apparent that it was not going to be the Sabres night.

"Once they got that first goal, they were just sitting back and waiting again," Biron said. "They were working hard and they just stuck to their system. That's why they got that win."

Eight minutes into the third period, Shean Donovan got an even uglier goal when he poked a loose puck through Biron's legs. Biron reached back with his catching glove and almost got the puck before it crossed the line, but the puck was clearly behind the line when the Sabres goalie pushed it out with his glove.

The Sabres have to get back to basics and forget about all the fancy passes if they are to beat the Senators Saturday night. They also have to start getting more production out of their powerplay units if they don't want to keep the "Winless in Buffalo" streak going.

Sabres Talk

Ruff was not too happy a camper after the game.

"We missed some good opportunities," fumed Ruff. "Our puck control was good. Our slot selection was poor."

"We crossed the line into being a fancy club, too many turnovers at the blue line, fancy plays at the blue line, plays where we're inside the zone but we didn't want to shoot the puck," Ruff continued. "We gotta get pucks to the net."

Woolley, who scored the Sabres only goal, doesn't think the Sabres will follow too closely behind the Bills in their losing ways.

"It's just a matter of time with these guys," predicted Woolley. "These guys are too good to be shut out for too long."

"We had our chances down at the other end and, boom, they came down on a little bit of a broken play because we were trying to get things going," Woolley said. "It goes off Marty's glove and squibbles through. It was kind of a lucky goal. Those are the goals we would have liked on the other end."

Curtis Brown, who had been one of the candidates for the Captain job put the Sabres scoring drought of the past three years in perspective.

"Everybody wishes there was a simple equation, you just touch a button and you get so many chances going in the net," Brown said. "That's not the way this sport goes. It's part of the craziness of the game."

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