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Sabres Central

Sabres still floundering on the bottom
By Rick Anderson
February 22, 2003

Sabres rookie goalie Ryan Miller, is beaten by Kings' Ziggy Palffy as dekes past Miller to score his second of the night, a shorthanded goal. Miller was later demoted to the Rochester Amerks of the AHL.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

The Buffalo Sabres still haven't found an identity this year. This past week epitomized the entire season in a nutshell. The Sabres split their four this past week and once again could not get any momentum going.

Friday night, they lost to the Los Angeles Kings 4-1 in a game where rookie goaltender Ryan Miller played his second straight game. After allowing only one goal in the Sabres 2-1 overtime victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday, Miller was less than impressive in allowing four goals against the Kings. Ziggy Palffy and Bryan Smolinski both had a pair of goals on Miller as the rookie struggled in the game. He committed himself too soon on one of Smolinski's goal where the King forward shot it over him when Miller was down on his knees. Another goal went between his arm and side and the Kings took advantage of anything the rookie gave them.

With 3 of the Sabres top blueliners out (Jay McKee, Henrik Tallinder and Rhett Warrener) the Sabres are playing with a patchup defensive lineup. Dmitri Kalinin made a huge mistake in the first period, with his clearing attempt going right onto the stick of Palffy, who blasted it home top shelf, probably the only solid goal the Kings scored all night.

"Our first bad play was Dmitri's bonehead play through the middle of the ice," described Ruff. "It really killed us. Then you get a real bad goal go in - it sucked the wind out of us."

With under 5 minutes left in the first period, Smolinski lifted a wobbly shot that somehow squeezed under Miller's right arm.

"I should have had it," admitted Miller. "I don't even want to start talking about what I was thinking. No matter what, I need to save that."

Miller did make 37 saves and even stopped a breakaway by Palffy, but his newness to the league has been his undoing a lot this season. In fact, after the game, Ruff informed the rookie that he was heading back down to Rochester to play with the Amerks. The demotion just made a bad night even worse.

"The main frustration is this is a situation where I've been entrusted with a game," replied Miller. "At this point and time we needed a win, and the coaches put their faith in me."

Miller has been inconsistent in his last stint with the Sabres. He was very strong in January and even made the NHL Young Guns team and played well in that preliminary all-star contest. However Miller has only recorded one victory in his last seven games. Now he will be able to play more games with the Amerks than up in Buffalo, where he was splitting the time with Martin Biron.

"We've reaped some dividends, but it's at the point where, for his development, he needs to play every night, get the three games in three nights," said Ruff about Miller.

While the Sabres whittle away on what could be their last season in Buffalo, they never have been able to get everyone clicking on the same page. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff has to take a lot of responsibility for the undisciplined and unmotivated play this season. While there have been a handful of coaching changes already this season, Ruff's position is secure as long as the team is still searching for a new owner. The team is dead last in the entire National Hockey League and they seem to be pretty secure in that position for the rest of the season.

On President's Day, the Sabres played a rare weekday afternoon game in Atlanta and lost in overtime to the Thrashers 4-3. It was a battle of the two worst ranked teams in the NHL and the Sabres came out as the cellar champs with the loss. Patrik Stefan scored the winner in OT when he got one past Martin Biron with just two seconds left in a powerplay. In fact, it was Stefan who drew the interference call on Alexei Zhitnik earlier in the sudden death stanza.

''They used almost all of the time up on the power play and made the Buffalo guys pretty tired,'' Stefan said. ''You could see it when I was coming into the zone. Their guys were kind of tired.''

The Thrashers, were given plenty of powerplays to the dismay of Ruff. The Sabres killed off the first five penalties, but then Adam Mair was given a major five minute penalty and game misconduct for elbowing. The Thrashers scored twice during that major and the overtime goal did the Sabres in.

Ruff questioned the five minutes for elbowing.

''Someone will have to explain that to me,'' fumed Ruff. ''Why not two minutes for elbowing? Why five minutes? We put together a good game except for the penalty killing.''

Two impressive wins

While the two losses to the Thrashers and Kings were tough, the Sabres did show some spark in their two victories over the New York Rangers and Canadiens.

Last Saturday the Rangers were in town and a were greeted by the fourth sellout of the season. The Rangers threw everything but the kitchen sink at Biron, but the Sabres goalie was up to the task. He made 48 stops in a 5-4 Sabres victory.

It was a wild game that provided plenty of excitement for the fans, a lot of which were Rangers supporters. Miroslav Satan was granted a penalty shot and got the puck five-hole on Rangers goalie Mike Dunham in the second period. Curtis Brown scored the winning goal on a short-handed effort just 1:29 into the third period. The other Sabres who hit the back of the net were Chris Gratton, Adam Mair and Rory Fitzpatrick, the defenseman called up from Rochester who scored his first regular season goal.

Even though the Sabres were outshot by a big margin in the game, Ruff was running to the bank with the 2 points.

''If you win, I'll take it,'' admitted Ruff. ''I thought that was awesome because we've outshot teams 44-21 and lost games. We were due for one of those games.''

Biron was also happy with the win.

''They kept shooting them a little bit from anywhere (making it) open for rebounds, open for redirections,'' Biron, who faced a season-high 22 in the second stanza, said. ''As a goalie, these are shots (that) get you in the groove and they get you going. If you can handle them the way you want them then it feels great.''

Darius Kasparaitis, Petr Nedved, Vladimir Malakhov and Matthew Barnaby got the puck past Biron. Barnaby, the former Sabre, out-muscled Brown in front of the net to bang one home in front of his former team and fans.

Satan beats Habs in OT

Last week was a pretty good one for Satan. Not only did he notch the penalty shot Saturday, but he scored the game-winner against Montreal Wednesday in dramatic fashion. With the puck floating in the neutral zone, Satan scooped it up and made a mad dash down the left side. Reaching the left faceoff circle, Satan wound up and slapped a shot past Habs backup goalie Mathieu Garon 3:49 into overtime. The puck made it through his legs and Satan went down on his knees in the left corner lifting his hands in anticipation of the fans approval. It was Satan's 20th of the season and marked the 7th straight year that he made this milestone.

"I shot it low in the middle, hoping I would squeeze it by the five hole, and that's what happened," described Satan.

While it has not been the best season for Satan and his teammates, at least he enjoyed the moment.

"The way we approach it right now is just to have fun and win some games for the fans and for each other,'' said a jovial Satan. "And I think that's what we did today. It's a little brighter moment in this season.''

Vaclav Varada, returning to the lineup after being out for 17 games with a sprained right knee, tied the game up at 1 when he jammed the crease and flipped it over Garon. Jan Bulis had opened the scoring, getting the only goal the Habs got against Miller. Miller made 25 saves and looked strong in this one, only to fall back against the Kings.

Road from here

The Sabres go on the road, starting with Sunday's game in Tampa Bay, for three straight before coming home on Friday to host the Dallas Stars. They play in Florida on Monday and a Wednesday clash in the nation's capital. That means the Sabres will play a grueling schedule of four games in 6 days.

Meanwhile, the B. Thomas Golisano is quietly getting his package together to make a new bid to buy the Sabres.

"I think it's going very well," described Golisano about the process in getting pieces together after Mark Hamister surrendered his bid to buy the Sabres. "I would say there's been no roadblocks to this point."

Golisano was seen at the Sabres-Rangers game and many fans came up to him to encourage his efforts to purchase the struggling team.

"I'm getting excited about these Sabres," admitted Golisano. "Recently, I've been going to games and I love the atmosphere. Saturday night was great fun. I had no less than a couple hundred people come up and wish me well in this thing. And that was very gratifying."

Sabres Talk

Miller will have to suck up his pride and try to get his game back on track in Rochester. After the win against the Canadiens, Miller was hoping to get in high gear again. It was his first victory since he shut out the Wild on January 14th.

"I wouldn't say my game was shaken, but you always feel like you want to get the win," said Miller after beating the Habs. "You want to contribute point-wise to the team. It's important to get those two points. I really wanted to win that game. That's going to have to be the case for the rest of the year. I want to prove I belong here. If you're contributing to the team you belong to be here, and for a while there I wasn't."

Satan, meanwhile, has been quietly getting his game going again after a slow start.

"It's nice," Satan described his overtime goal against the Habs for his 20th of the season. "But the main concern, obviously, is the situation we are in right now. As we approach it we just have to have fun and try to win some games for the fans and for each other.

"I can't be happy with this season because the main picture is how the team is doing. We are on the bottom of the league right now, and I don't think anybody in this dressing room can be happy with that. When I look at the individual things it's an OK season for me. But I wish I was having a better season so I could maybe help the team even more."

Satan talked about his frustration with his inability to score more goals.

"It's much tougher to get goals and to create something this season because of the way things are going," conceded Satan. "The confidence level is not as high on the team, and it's tougher to get things going through those types of stretches."

With Miller being sent back down to Rochester, Biron should not get the majority of starts the rest of the way. He wished he could have made one more save in that Atlanta game. It was tough defending against the Thrashers' powerplay in the overtime.

"With a four-on-three you've got to keep your head on a swivel," admitted Biron. "He (Patrik Stefan) got that goal by hitting it a foot of the ice, and when that happens you look at it again and say they got lucky a little bit, but they were opportunists."

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