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Sabres Central

Sabres the new Kings of LA
By Rick Anderson
October 25, 2003

The Ducks were falling down all night as the Sabres blasted them 5-2 for their second straight win in Los Angeles. Here the Ducks' Jason Krog trips behind the net while attempting to get the puck out as Dmitri Kalinin, who scored a goal for Buffalo, pursuits.
[AP Photo/Chris Carlson]

Maybe this longest road trip is just what the Buffalo Sabres needed. It took a wakeup call in Vancouver to get the Sabres playing like they are capable of. The Sabres were humiliated 6-1 in Vancouver and they came back in the next game against the Los Angeles Kings, trouncing them 5-1. The Kings got the same treatment the Canucks gave the Sabres. The Sabres came out with intensity and hit everything in a Kings sweater.

"For all the things we did wrong in Vancouver, for the first two periods, it looked like we put on Vancouver's jerseys and did what they did to us," commented Sabres coach Lindy Ruff after the Kings game. "We have to bottle it up and come up with a more consistent effort."

It is one thing to play with that intensity for one game, but to do it two games in a row speaks volumes. Friday night, with a rested Anaheim Mighty Duck team waiting for them, the Sabres routed the Ducks 5-2 in the Pond. Could this be the turnaround that Sabres fans and the front office have been waiting for? It is still early in the season, but the two wins in Los Angeles plus a 2-0 win in Calgary may be the start of something new for the Sabres.

Long and winding road

After winning their first game of the season against the Dallas Stars, the Sabres embarked on their longest road trip in team history: a 6-game trek that would take 12 days. The Sabres have not been one of the better road clubs in the league the past few years and have never done well on west coast trips. After losing their first game to Edmonton, it appeared as if the Sabres were going to come back with a bad record when the 6 games were over. However, the 2-0 shutout by Mika Noronen over the Flames sparked some hope that the Sabres may be able to salvage something out of the trip.

Next on the list came Vancouver and the Canucks used Buffalo as tender meat when they gobbled them alive, scoring 6 goals and completely outplaying the listless Sabres. The Sabres took that loss and used it as a focal point to get their act together again. The Canucks had lost their previous game in a similar embarrassing fashion and took it out on the Sabres. Buffalo, meanwhile, did the same to the Kings, handing the home team a disgraceful loss in front of their fans.

Doing it to the Kings was one thing, but the real challenge was to come out with the same kind of effort against last year's Stanley Cup finalists, the Mighty Ducks. The Kings had rested Roman Cechmanek, who had a shutout against the Flyers in his previous start in favor of backup Cristobal Huet. The move backfired on the Kings as the Sabres pelted Huet with 34 shots, five of which got past the flustered goalie.

It was going to be quite a different story against the Ducks. J.S. Giguere, who led the Mighty Ducks all the way to the SCF, would not be quite as easy a mark as Huet. Giguere won the MVP in the post season last year and the Sabres have had problems scoring against good goalies.

The Sabres came out against the Ducks exactly the way they had the previous night against the Kings. Taylor Pyatt, who had scored two goals against Los Angeles, had his second straight 2-goal night against the Ducks. Pyatt opened the scoring in the first period and got the game-winner with 11:56 left in the contest. Pyatt's first goal came early, with only 3:55 elapsed. Daniel Briere centered a pass in front of Giguere and Pyatt used a wrist shot to beat the Ducks goalie.

Scoring 4 goals in two nights is could be the breakout for the young winger. The Sabres were hoping that Pyatt would eventually use his size to become a dominant force in front of the net. They had acquired him, along with Tim Connolly in that controversial trade that sent Michael Peca to the Islanders. He now leads all the Sabres in scoring with 5 goals. Now maybe Pyatt is finally exploding on the scene.

"He's a young player who is just coming into his own," lauded Ruff. "He was second on our team last year in even-strength goals, which tells you that he scored the tough goals. He got on a roll at the end of the year. I thought he dominated tonight."

The Sabres were down 2-1 going into the final period against the Ducks, but exploded with 4 goals to win going away. Dmitri Kalinin got a shot off from the point that had Giguere looking the wrong way to get his first goal of the season to tie the game at 2. After Pyatt's eventual game winning tally, Adam Mair blasted a rebound past a stunned Giguere to make it 4-2. J.P. Dumont ended the scoring when he stole the puck in the Ducks zone and deked Giguere, putting it between the goalie's pads and the left post.

If Pyatt can continue to contribute in the front of the net and score goals, it would be a God-send for this team which has been looking for some goal scorers for a long time. Pyatt at 6 foot 4 and weighing around 225, his a big immovable object in front of the net. The problem is convincing him to keep driving towards the net and staying there. With Pyatt on the line of Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, he has two great play-making forwards who can set him up in front.

"It's a funny thing," said Pyatt. "Sometimes you get put with guys you've never played with before and it just seems to click. I've been switched around quite a bit, but now I have the opportunity with Chris and Danny, and I'm trying to find as much open ice as I can and get open for those guys to find me. So you just try to ride the wave when you get a little confidence."

Is Biron the man?

After shutting out the Flames, Noronen was given the start against the Canucks. While his effort cannot be blamed as the entire reason for that humbling loss, it certainly didn't improve his chances of becoming the No. 1 Sabres goalie. Biron has been exceptional since and may have cemented down the starting job for quite awhile. He made 24 saves against the Kings and may have himself had a shutout in that game, but a defensive miscue resulted in the Kings scoring.

In Anaheim, Biron was also strong, especially late in the third period when the Ducks were attempting to make a comeback. He also made some great saves in the second stanza, especially when the Ducks had a powerplay and he made sensational saves on Vaclav Prospal and Sergei Fedorov just half a minute apart.

Sabres Talk

Joffrey Lupul, who notched his first-ever NHL goal, talked about how the Ducks couldn't match the Sabres intensity.

"We were fortunate to have the lead to begin with," said Lupul. "Even before they tied it up, we weren't playing with enough intensity or sustaining any pressure in their zone. We quit playing hard."

In the game against the Kings, Adam Mair decked out Ziggy Palffy with a clean, but ferocious open-ice hit. Palffy later went out with a neck strain.

"Any time you play against a team you were with before, there's more excitement and more adrenaline," said Mair. "You want to show the other organization they made a mistake. It adds to the game a little bit more for me."

"The hit by Adam Mair on Ziggy was just an exclamation point," said Kings coach Andy Murray. "But your good players are going to get bumped, and they have to expect that. Our job is to make sure that we're bumping the other team's good players. And we didn't do enough of that."

Murray then talked about how the Sabres came in with a full head of steam after their bad loss to the Canucks.

"We had to realize that they were going to come in here like a wounded bear," admitted Murray. "They took a kicking the other night, so we knew they were going to be angry. We watched their practice yesterday and it was an angry practice. It was a team that was mad at each other and they were determined to come in here and do something. We forewarned our players, but unfortunately, they didn't heed the advice."

Miroslav Satan, who scored a powerplay goal against the Kings, talked about how all 4 of his goals thus far have all been on the powerplay.

"I don't have any secrets," admitted Satan. "The power play is a situation where you are supposed to score."

Satan talked about the contrast between the Vancouver disaster and the big win in LA.

"The difference for us tonight was mental focus," revealed Satan. "We were skating great, creating scoring chances, and we didn't make any mistakes."

Andy Delmore hasn't scored one goal or even recorded a single point a Sabre. He was acquired during the offseason to help boost the powerplay. Delmore is confounded by his lack of scoring.

"I wouldn't say it's pressure," emphasized Delmore. "It's expectations on myself to perform at a higher level, to help the team. We all know what our jobs are out there on the ice, not just as individuals, but as a team. We know what our part is. Goal scorers have to do that. Enforcers have to enforce. Defensive players have to play defense. Sometimes we're not doing our roles. We all have to do our jobs and try to not stray from that."

The west coast trip will be perfect if the Sabres beat the Avs Sunday and Delmore finally hits the back of the net in Denver.

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