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Sabres Central

Sabres thrilled to go on the road
By Rick Anderson
October 26, 2002

Devils goalie Martin Brodeur blocks both Sabres center Curtis Brown and the puck in third period action. The Devils beat the Sabres 2-1.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

The upcoming 6-game road trip probably couldn't have come at a better time for the Buffalo Sabres. Going to confines more friendly than HSBC Arena may just be what the team needs. The home-weary team may get a fresh start and play better when they don't have to listen to the deafening silence being emitted from all those empty blue seats in Buffalo. Going into opposing teams' arenas and being cheered against never sounded so good for the Sabres.

The Sabres concluded a very unsuccessful 4-game homestand Friday night before their biggest crowd of the season, 12,633. They also fell back into their old non-scoring habits from the past few years when they lost to the New Jersey Devils 2-1. The players probably can't get out of town soon enough.

The Sabres open their road stand Saturday in Pittsburgh where they face Mario Lemieux and the Penguins. Maybe playing before an arena that is filled more with people than empty seats will help the Sabres get more motivated. They seemed to have reverted back to their non-scoring ways recently as their goal total in recent home games came close to the head count in the stands, practically nothing.

The Sabres 4-game homestand was not successful at all. They went 1-2-1, winning their only game on Tuesday when they beat the Flyers 2-1. Miroslav Satan celebrated his 28th birthday by scoring the game winner against the Flyers. Chris Gratton, who has been one of the hottest Sabres this season, assisted on both Satan's and Vaclav Varada's opening goal.

Friday night against the Devils, it showed that the Sabres just haven't turned the corner yet. From their preseason play along with how they exploded in their first two games with 11 goals, the Sabres appeared to have broken out of their scoring doldrums. However, in their last 3 games, they have been averaging under 2 goals a game, just like last year.

Goblins haunt HSBC

It appears as if goblins are not only haunting HSBC Arena, but they have taken over the place. The goblins are the huge gaping empty sections of seats that have become prevalent in the arena. Sabres are averaging 11,741, which is last in the league. On the road, they are one of the biggest draws so far, attracting 19,091, which puts them 3rd overall. Friday's game against the Devils drew the highest yet, 12,633. The worst was Tuesday's game against the Flyers, who are usually a big draw, when they only attracted 10,140. That was the second lowest crowd in the history of the arena for a Sabres game. There were 24 less in the stands back on Oct. 9, 1997 when Lindy Ruff was taking over for the popular Ted Nolan as Sabres coach.

In all the turmoil and the empty arena, the players themselves have to concentrate on winning games. It isn't an easy task by any means. In a way, the players are the innocent victims in all of this. Sure they missed the playoffs for the first time since the mid-90s. But it isn't as if they aren't giving it their all. Some are even wondering if all the blood, sweat and tears they are sacrificing on the ice is being appreciated by the fans. In fact, the lack of fan support is demoralizing and could indeed be affecting their play on the ice.

"It's kind of sad to see the fans don't even show their support," said Varada, who scored the first goal against the Flyers on Tuesday. "It seems like an exhibition game. It's tough. It feels like there's no help.

"We're working so hard that our intensity is there, but it would be nicer to have a full building and get the fans pumped. I think we have the type of team they want. We just have to keep winning and hopefully the fans will come."

Going back to the boring, non-inspired style of play that helped eliminated them from the playoffs last year will not win them back. Scoring only one goal like they did against the Devils will only heighten the fans apathy.

Getting out of town for a couple weeks could be just what the doctor ordered. It certainly can't be any worse than playing in front all those empty seats disguised as booing fans.

Sabres Talk

Stu Barnes was the only Sabres to get the puck behind Brodeur Friday. He explained the difference between the disciplined Devils and the Sabres.

"They're a very good team, a very patient team and a very disciplined team," described Barnes. "It's a team that's willing to make the right play to get the win. It's something we need to improve on and make sure we know how to make the right play at the right time."

The Devils, are using their old style of trapping to keep opponents out of their zone. While the referees were calling obstruction penalties in the first week of play this season, they seem to be putting the whistle back in their pockets as October turns into November. That could explain the sudden demise of the Sabres scoring. Buffalo's power-play now is 0 out of 17 since the opposing teams were allowed to put the clamps on the exciting open style hockey that had fans buzzing the first week. When the obstruction was being penalized, teams with greater speed and finesse could break into the clear more often. Now it's back to the same old same old in the NHL.

"We'd love to have a little more offense, get more goals,'' said Brodeur about the Devils offensive punch. "This is the way we're winning hockey games now. When you're winning, you can't complain too much.''

The Sabres were able to shut down the Flyers once again on Tuesday. While they only had 2 goals, the defense and Biron were able to make that stick for a victory.

"Marty made a couple key saves on our turnovers that were at important times of the game for us," described Ruff.

"We had to win here (Tuesday)," Gratton said after the win over the Flyers. "We had to play desperate, and I think we did a good job of that tonight.

"That's something we wanted to do all night, force their "D' and create some turnovers. Fortunately it went to Miro. When he's walking in like that, he's a dangerous guy all alone."

Now the Sabres have 6 games to get their offense clicking again before they return home to their haunted house of horrors, hopefully with more explosive punch to freighted away all those goblins dressed in empty seat costumes.

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