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Sabres Central

Sabres begin New Year on a low note
By Rick Anderson
January 6, 2002

Sabres goalie Martin Biron has been struggling so far this year in goal for the Sabres. He has to pick up his game if the Sabres are going to make the playoffs this year.
[AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar]

Sabres Week in Review

The Buffalo Sabres ended one year and opened a new one the same way... losing. Buffalo lost to the Carolina Hurricanes on New Year's Eve 5-4 and then proceeded to lose to the Calgary Flames 3-1 four nights later. Things are not getting any better for the men in red and black.

With the Sabres reaching the halfway mark of the season, they find themselves at the very bottom of the Northeast Division, with a 15-21-4-1 record. Hopes for the playoffs are dwindling by the day and help is not on the way.

One of the biggest concerns for the Sabres is the goaltending situation. Martin Biron, after having a couple good stints, is back in a funk again. Biron's last victory was a 4-2 win over Carolina on December 4th. Since then, he has struggled just to stay in the game. Biron so far has a 13-17-3 record, a 2.52 GAA and a .901 save percentage.

The Sabres called up Mika Noronen twice, and the youngster from Finland has posted a 2-1-1 record. They sent him back down to Rochester this week to help the Amerks generate some momentum. That leaves the Sabres with a struggling Biron and Bob Essensa as the backup. Essensa is 0-4-0 and should not even be on the club. What Buffalo needs is a proven veteran goalie who can take some of the pressure off the young shoulders of Biron.

In the game against Calgary, Biron let in two quick goals that he normally would stop in his sleep and the Sabres could not get any goals themselves until they notched one in the third period. Against the Hurricanes, Buffalo fought back to tie the game at 3 until Ron Francis scored 2 straight goals in the end to beat them.

What a difference a year can make

Last season, the Sabres go over 90 points. This season, they are on pace to have 20 fewer points. There blame can be shared equally. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff was not able to get the Sabres up for the early games against weaker teams, and that will hurt the team's chances in the long run. Goaltending has not been equal to what it has been in years past with Dominik Hasek protecting the goal. Buffalo's defense, which has been stellar under Ruff's system, has suddenly played chaotic and not given their goalies as much support as they gave Hasek in years past.

Another reason for the Sabres demise is veteran leadership. Gone are Hasek, who's importance in the locker room may have been understated, along with former captain Michael Peca, Doug Gilmour and Dave Andreychuck. The Sabres are sorely lax in the leadership department with all those veterans gone.

Sabres road from here

Last week this column called the Sabres future travels "Rocky road from here." The Sabres are no longer on any road, but have fallen into a gigantic pot hole in which they will have terrible difficulty getting out of. Sabres GM Darcy Regier has to get on the phone and start wheeling and dealing if the Sabres have any chance to catch up with the teams in front of them in the Eastern Division. Goaltending may be one of the areas that Regier will concentrate getting help in. Biron has shown that he is not consistent enough to play as many games as Hasek used to. Essensa is not backup material. Noronen has proven he can succeed in the NHL, but he is still an unproven commodity.

Regier may also try to shore up the Sabres defense, which could use a big bruiser to help clear out the crease area. The current Sabres D-men are not doing the job. The Sabres have actually scored two more goals than they had at this point last year. However, they could always use some more offensive help.

J.P. Dumont, and Maxim Afinogenov have proven the most consistent scorers. Stu Barnes, Curtis Brown, Miroslav Satan and Chris Gratton have been bitter disappointments so far for the Sabres. Brown and Gratton have been the worse of this crew, with Gratton only getting 3 goals so far and Brown has 9.

The Sabres play the Minnesota Wild in Minnesota Sunday and then come home to host Vancouver, Pittsburgh and New Jersey this week. The Sabres have to win at least 3 of those to begin to right their sinking ship.


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