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Sabres Central

Sabres falling into the abyss
By Rick Anderson
December 28, 2002

Ottawa Senators center Todd White is able to get puck past Sabres goalie Martin Biron after a breakaway in first period action.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

The cataclysm of the Sabres continues. This past week, the Sabres rapid decent from respectability resumed as they lost all three against Montreal, Pittsburgh and Ottawa. Those three losses, combined with the embarrassing loss a week ago against the Florida Panthers, put the Sabres losing streak at four. To make matters worse, there doesn't seem to be any light at the end of the tunnel.

The game against the league-leading Ottawa Senators on Thursday was a prime epitome of the Sabres season thus far. Buffalo took a commanding 2-0 lead and decided to sit on it. The resulting shell game allowed the Sens to take it to the Sabres and tie the game at the end of the first period. With five minutes left in the opening period, it appeared as if the Sabres were well on their way to their first win in four games after a couple nice goals by Henrik Tallinder and J.P. Dumont. Then lightning struck twice in less than three minutes.

Magnus Arvedson pounced on a huge rebound that Martin Biron gave up on a Daniel Alfredsson shot and found a gapping hole to score. Then Alfredsson set Todd White on a breakaway on Biron. Biron got his stick out too soon to try to poke check White and White flipped it past Biron as he was tumbling down to the ice. Those two quick strikes eliminated any momentum the Sabres had and it was all Ottawa from there.

Arvedson paid Alfredsson back for his great setup on the first Sens goal by getting a shot off that Alfredsson was able to direct past the Sabres befuddled goalie.

Until this year, the Senators hadn't beaten the Sabres in Buffalo since October 1998. Now they have two wins in Buffalo and one back home in Canada's capital.

"I think it's good for our confidence (beating the Sabres),'' reflected Alfredsson. "This year I think we've taken it to the next level and that's why I think we can come in here and win now. We're a better team than we were last year and the year before.''

The Sabres just don't have any kind of killer instinct this year. This was the fifth game this season they have blown a 2-goal lead. Not only did they try to protect the lead, but they refused to hit for most of the game. It was almost a duplicate of the game played against the Sens on December 10, when it looked more like non-checking All-Star game minus any all-stars on the Sabres side.

Habs and Pens bury Sabres

The Montreal Canadiens paid the Sabres back for their early season 6-2 setback against Buffalo. This time they turned the tables completely around, shellacking the Sabres 6-2. The Sabres came out of the gates as flat as Swedish pancakes as they didn't have any drive or even ambition to play an aggressive game.

Doug Gilmour was able to stick it to his former teammates, scoring two goals and looking 10 years younger to prove a point to the Sabres front office who thought he was ready for retirement.

Biron started the game against the Habs was not able to stop the first two shots he faced. In came Mika Noronen, who wasn't much better, who allowed 3 goals on 4 shots in the second stanza.

"It was like when I have a nightmare and I can't put my glove on the puck or stop anything, only I never woke up,'' moaned Noronen.

Along with Gilmour's two goals, Yanic Perreault, Saku Koivu, Richard Zednik and Chad Kilger scored for Montreal. It only took the Habs 12 shots to get its 6 goals and they were outshot in the game 38-16.

"People seem to pay a lot of attention to shots -- and we do, too -- but we look more at scoring chances,'' announced Habs coach Michel Therrien said. "For us, we were able to finish. We took advantage of our scoring chances.''

Two nights later, the Sabres got their heads handed them in Pittsburgh, which has been a house of horrors for them the past few years. Mario Lemieux displayed a magic show to the horror of the Sabres. He scored one goal right off the faceoff, a feat that is a rarity in hockey. The puck dropped and he took a swipe at it, getting the puck past Noronen.

In a matter of 6 minutes, Mario was able to engineer 4 goals, assisting on 3 of them as the Pens routed the Sabres 5-2. This was another blown lead for Buffalo, as they had a 2-1 lead half way through the final period until Lemieux came up with his bag of tricks.

NHL deadline looming

The NHL has set a deadline of January 3 for the HSBC Arena demands of Mark Hamister to be met. They want to see positive steps taken by the city of Buffalo and Erie County in meeting what Hamister wants done to improve the arena.

"We have to make meaningful progress if we expect that deadline to be extended," Hamister said. "It's clear that the commissioner wants to see progress. We need to insure that the request we have to the government to right size the financial structure of the HSBC Arena- not the team now, just the arena- that there is a strong likelihood that the respective government entities will come to the table and do the right thing."

With the deadline less than a week away and not too much happening on the government front, it appears as if Hamister may just withdraw his bid as he threatened. If that scenario develops, it is unclear if Tom Golisano will rebid for the Sabres.

Hamister also made it clear that the Sabres would have to file for bankruptcy to clear the way for the transfer of ownership to him. The $157 million owed Adelphia would be put into the bankruptcy court for the judge to decide the proper allocation to the cable giant.

"It looks to me it's going to happen one way or another," predicted Hamister about the team declaring bankruptcy. "As the commissioner said, it could be an almost 'non-event' for the community or it could be real messy. We have to cleanse the asset."

Sabres Talk

The Sabres veterans just can't understand why the Sabres have been giving up 2-goal leads.

"It's the story of our year," acknowledged James Patrick. "There's no excuses for it, but for some reason we're finding ways to give up easy goals. Tonight, I thought we had the chances to get it out of our zone, and we didn't. Again, with a 2-0 lead you have to think every shift, "Don't give them anything. Don't give them anything.' "

Biron was also scratching his head after the Sens game.

"That's something we used to be able to do (keep a lead),'' put in Biron. "We would do all the little things and you need to do right.''

The Sabres got four straight power plays against the Sens and could only convert on one. They ended up 1 of 5 for the night.

"You've got to rely on your core, and I don't think we got enough out of our core tonight," said Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "We didn't get enough out of Gratton. We didn't get enough out of Satan. Those are the guys, when it's 2-2, we need them to win us the game. Or when it goes 3-2, tie the game. Or make the difference on the last power play."

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