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Sabres Central

Sabres shooting blanks out west
By Rick Anderson
November 2, 2002

Sabres goalie Mika Noronen stops a shot from Edmonton Oilers' Anson Carter in first period action. Noronen stopped 39 shots and allowed only one goal in a 1-1 tie.
[AP Photo/John Ulan]

It was like a Fourth of July fireworks attraction that got rained out. The Buffalo Sabres were advertised to be more explosive this year. Scoring was supposed to be up and the Sabres lived up to the billing during preseason and their first two game of the year. Suddenly the well went dry. The scoring fizzled like a dud and died. All the hype and ads were erroneous. The Sabres were the same old offensively deprived team from last year.

After a 1-2-1 homestand, the Sabres were anxious to get out of town away from all those empty seats. A loss to the New Jersey Devils last Friday did not sit well with the few who did attend that last home game. Instead of playing with abandon and fervor without the pressure of trying to please the home crowd, the Sabres fell into the scoring funk that haunted them all last year.

With 2 games remaining in their 6-game road trip, the Sabres have yet to win a game. Two losses and two ties are all they have for their efforts and things are not going to get any better without an infusion of new blood on the ice. And that is not going to come anytime soon, so the Sabres have to find the strength within to break out of their prolonged scoring slump.

Since the Sabres opened the season by exploding for 11 goals against the Islanders and Canadiens, their scoring has gone south and so has their record. Buffalo is 1-5-3 in that stretch, after giving the Sabres followers false hope by winning their first two games.

The Sabres opened up their longest road stand of the year in Pittsburgh and left with their tails between their legs as the Penguins blasted the Sabres 5-2. Adam Mair scored a shorthanded goal and Jochen Hecht got a powerplay tally against the Pens. Little did Sabres coach Lindy Ruff know that this was going to be the most offense he would get from his team all week.

Mario Lemieux who has been on fire this year, helped the Pens score on each of their first 4 powerplays and the Sabres just couldn't stop them. Biron only faced 23 shots, but wasn't up to the test provided by the high powered Penguin offense.

From Pittsburgh, the Sabres flew out west to Vancouver. The Sabres went scoreless for most of the game and were on pace of losing their third straight game when Ruff tried to pull a rabbit out of his bag of tricks. Ales Kotalik, who was playing his first game for the Sabres this season, was put out with the first line in a desperate effort to tie the game. With only 2:39 remaining in the game, Kotalik put in a rebound after a wild scramble in front of the net.

''It was just a hunch,'' described Ruff. ''I got him off the fourth line, moved him up and it paid dividends.''

''I was just going to the net hoping for a loose puck and it comes right on my stick so I just put it in,'' said Kotalik.

That would be the last goal the Sabres would score for 69 minutes and 18 seconds. The Sabres went into Calgary and ran up against a hot Roman Turek. They peppered him with 23 shots in the first two periods, 30 in all, but couldn't get any rubber behind him. The Flames got two lucky bounces in the first period that gave them a 2-0 lead. Flames defenseman Toni Lydman and Jarome Iginla got deflections off Sabres defensemen that got past Sabres goalie Martin Biron and Buffalo couldn't get any breaks of their own as Calgary stumped the Sabres 3-0.

"It was a back-breaker the way those two goals went in," remarked Biron.

Next on the Western swing would be the Edmonton Oilers. Once again, the Sabres went the first two periods without even coming close to scoring. Then in the third period, the Sabres went on the powerplay. Buffalo's powerplay has been a huge disappointment this season. After the first two games, the efficiency dropped like a lead balloon. Against the Canucks, Ruff went to Kotalik. Against the Oilers, Ruff got defenseman Dmitri Kalinin into the mix. Kalinin had been scratched from the lineup most of the season in favor of rookie Henrik Tallinder, but in an attempt to get anything going, Kalinin was out on the ice for the powerplay. It paid off as Kalinin tied it up at 6:39 of the final stanza to give the Sabres a 1-1 tie.

Kalinin was put into the lineup as Tallinder had a bruised shoulder. This was Kalinin chance to shine. Setting up at the top of the faceoff circle, Kalinin rifled a shot off Tommy Salo's glove into the net.

It was only fitting that Kalinin scored as the Oilers only goal deflected off his skate past Mika Noronen. That was when Janne Niinimaa's shot Kalinin 8:22 of the second stanza and it looked like that was going to be the game winner until Kalinin evened it up

"I thought Dmitri was very good," lauded Ruff. "He was ready. He was champing at the bit to play and that was nice to see. It was a tough break on the first goal, it goes off his skate. But he came right back.''

"I was just looking for shots," admitted Kalinin. "The next game in Columbus, I don't know what's going to happen, but I hope I make the lineup again. I just want to go out and help the team like I did tonight."

Noronen was stellar in the game, making 39 saves in only his second start of the season. He came up huge in preserving the tie in the overtime when he stuffed Mike Comrie on a breakaway. There were only 14 ticks left on the clock and it would have really been demoralizing for the Sabres if they had lost this one.

"Not too many goalies usually stack their pads and I thought I had him five-hole,'' described Comrie about his one-on-one confrontation with Noronen. "Anson (Carter) made a great play and saw me breaking. I just couldn't bury it. He made an unusual save when he stacked his pads.''

"When you get in these situations you need your goaltender to win you a game or at least get you a point," described Ruff. "He had a big influence tonight."

Road from here

The Sabres were hoping to get a high-octane product on the ice to help attract their fans back to HSBC Arena. Except for their first two games, their offensive output has been a bitter pill for both fans and Ruff to swallow. Sunday they play in Columbus, a place that wasn't too friendly to them last season. Ruff is on the hot spot to get the offense clicking like it was the first week of the season, but it is going to be a difficult task to say the least. His job probably hinges on a big turnaround for the Sabres scoreless machine.

"Overall, we're squeezing the stick pretty hard," Ruff said. "It's not from lack of work. We've had some great power plays we haven't scored on. We made some good plays for Dmitri to get that goal."

To make things worse for the goal-starved Sabres, they lost their top forward when Miroslav Satan left the game with back spasms after being checked heavily into the boards. He went to the hospital in Edmonton for X-rays and his status is unknown for the rest of the road trip.

"I think he's got a hip pointer and his back went into spasms, so that's why we got him off the bench,'' described Ruff.

Now the Sabres will really have to compensate to make up for Satan's absence.

Sabres Talk

With Noronen playing a good game against the Oilers, it raises the possibility of him getting more starts in the near future.

"I played two games in the last four weeks,'' Noronen said. "I'm really starting to enjoy the game again and I had fun there so I'm happy about it. They had some chances and I made good saves. I started to feel better and better. That's what happens some nights, you get lucky and you make some stops that you don't even see.''

With the bounces going against the Sabres, it is to their credit that they have come back in two of the games force a tie.

"We get some strange goals that go off the stick or go off the skate into our net, but we stick with it, played our system and fought back in all the games,'' Jochen Hecht said.

"If the power play can chip in one goal a game, it would change our whole flow," said Vaclav Varada after the loss to Calgary."If you look at the stat sheet and it says we lost 3-0, you would think "Oh they got outplayed, but that's not what happened."

Ruff is pulling out what hair he has left in an attempt to get the offense out of its funk.

"We're going to try tinkering around with the top unit now," said Ruff. "Maybe it won't be Gratton, Satan, Pyatt and Hecht every time. Maybe we'll just start bombing pucks again instead of trying to pass around so much."

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