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Sabres Central

Sabres resolution: Score more goals!
By Rick Anderson
January 3, 2004

Sabres goalie Martin Biron stops a shot by the Ducks Vaclav Prospal in a shower of ice as the Sabres Alexei Zhitnik (44) and Derek Roy (9) attempt to stop Prospal.
[AP Photo/David Duprey]

The Buffalo Sabres started their New Year's resolution a few hours early and are determined to stick to their goal. And that goal is to score more goals this new year. So far their resolution is a resounding success.

In their last two games, the Sabres are accomplishing in their goal beyond their wildest dreams. The Sabres exploded for 7 goals against the Washington Capitals on New Year's Eve in their traditional "Tux and Pucks" night celebration in HSBC Arena. Friday night, their first actual game into the New Year, the Sabres upped their goal total to 12 by blasting the Anaheim Mighty Ducks 5-2.

In two games, the Sabres scored more goals than they had averaged in 7 or 8 games before their resolution. The team has made many resolutions in past years, but this year there seemed to be more urgency to meet their goal by scoring a ton of goals.

Ruff loses his neighbor

Coach Lindy Ruff's job is on the line as are the jobs of a few struggling players. After tying a team record in December by losing 7 straight games, the Sabres knew something had to be done fast to not have the team gutted out in an attempt to save the sinking ship.

Ruff got a dose of instant reality earlier this week when his neighbor and follow Buffalo head coach Gregg Williams got canned as the Buffalo Bills coach on Monday. Williams lived just a couple homes away from Ruff in his Amherst neighborhood and they often shared their coaching trials and tribulations with each other during neighborly visits and chats.

Both the Bills and Sabres struggled badly this year and they were able to comfort each other with moral support. The media and the fans can be cruel at times and it was nice for each of them to have a neighbor who understood completely what the other was going through.

Now suddenly, Ruff's neighbor and companion in coaching is gone. It was shocking to see how quickly one's career could be terminated.

Williams situation was made even more personal for Ruff when his very name was mentioned by Bills GM and President Tom Donahoe when he lashed out at the media and fans for their personal attacks he claimed they made against both Williams and Ruff.

In Donahoe's press conference announcing the dismissal of Williams as Bills head coach, he brought Ruff front in center in his rant against the media.

"What is inexcusable is personal attacks, name-calling and some of the things that I've heard, not just directed toward Gregg, but directed toward Lindy Ruff and directed toward other people in Western New York," seethed Donahoe. "I don't think there is any place for it."

Maybe the Williams firing also woke up the sleeping giant in the Sabres players as they could see the same writing on the wall for their coach if they didn't act quickly. If it could happen to Williams so suddenly, then Ruff's job was also in danger if they didn't start performing.

Sabres explode on Caps

The seven goal performance against the Capitals was just what the doctor ordered. The Sabres have been dreadful all year in scoring and they concluded 2003 the best way they knew how, opening up the floodgates. Miroslav Satan and Maxim Afinogenov both had hat tricks in the 7-1 win and that hadn't happened since 1992 and as ironic as it seems, that too was on New Year's Eve. Alexander Mogilny and Yuri Khmylev were the hat collectors that night and things have changed so much for the Sabres since then.

"The floodgates opened up," beamed Ruff. "It was a real good way to end a frustrating part of the season for us."

"A night of seven goals can do wonders for you, and it did," Ruff said. "Four over the last five, that's nine out of the last 12 points. We've got to keep that type of momentum to get ourselves back in the picture."

Afinogenov's play has been charged up recently and to get his first hat trick was special for the Russian. Maxim was not the same last season when he returned after suffering from a concussion before he joined the Sabres last season in a pickup game in his native Russia. It has taken him awhile this year also to get back to the old flashy form, but he definitely seems to be back to his electrifying game.

Satan was in a slump for most of the season and has broken out of it as late. That hat trick against the Caps, along with scoring another one Friday against the Ducks, has him leading the team again in scoring with 14. It was Satan's seventh goal in nine games.

"Hopefully we didn't use up all our goals," joked Satan after the game New Year's Eve. "Hopefully we have some still left because in January we have a real tough schedule. It's going to be tough. We need some goals left in the bag."

Satan's goal in the second period against the Ducks was a classic and showed why the Sabres are paying him $5 million a year. Briere got the puck to Satan in the neutral zone and broke in on Gerber. Former Wings great and now Mighty Duck Sergei Federov came back quickly to head Satan off, but Satan did some satanic magic by stopping on a dime and turning 180 degrees before sending a wrist shot top shelf over Gerber's shoulder. The amazing feat had the Sabres fans gasping in astonishment.

"It's a game of momentum," said Brown. "At that point it was 3-2 and Miro made a world class play and put it top shelf."

Satan and his Sabres kept it up against the Ducks and may have even more left in the bag for the game Saturday night in Toronto. Friday night 5 different Sabres scored. Besides Satan, Curtis Brown, Chris Drury, Dmitri Kalinin and Daniel Briere notched goals for Buffalo.

Brown got thing rolling in the second stanza when Drury a did a lot of work to go out in front and then passed off to Brown, who put it 5-hole on Martin Gerber with only 16 seconds gone by.

"I think guys are gaining confidence as things are going better," Brown said. "When that happens, guys are going to make more plays with the puck. A few weeks ago when we were going bad we would just dump the puck in."

Martin Biron, who replaced Mika Noronen after he suffered a groin injury and was put on IR, has not had too much to worry about in these past two games. He did make 24 saves against Anaheim, but with so much firepower in front of him, he could even allow a weak goal or two. The first goal on Biron wasn't weak as former Sabre Keith Carney pinched in to score a powerplay goal right after Drury had put the Sabres on the board first with a shorthanded goal. After the Sabres made it 3-1, Andy McDonald broke in down the left side and was able to get a long shot past Biron on his short side. The shot was taken from the blue line and Biron wished he could have that one back.

Biron, was solid when he had to and enjoyed watching the fireworks from the opposite end of the rink.

"When we play with momentum and get scoring chances we're successful," explained Biron. "Everybody's contributing and chipping in. It came from the defense out tonight, and the creativity on offense was great to see."

Sabres Talk

Chris Drury is finally getting back to where he was before he separated his shoulder.

"We're finally seeing Chris get back into the groove after the injury," said Ruff.

"We're getting chances and we're finding holes," explained Drury. "When you get on a wave like that, you just try to ride it."

Biron wishes he always had so much cushion as his team has been providing him the last two games. The Friday night fireworks was a great way for Biron to start celebrating the New Year.

"It's fun to see," smiled Biron. "When these things happen you see hats flying all over the place. You see the wave going on in the stands. It just makes for a good night for the home team."

"We're making strides,'' noted Ruff. "We've been getting more shots at the net and more people at the net. It's starting to pay off."

Brown, who has been playing some of his best hockey in years, noticed a big change in the Sabres this past week.

"I think guys are gaining confidence as things are going better," said Brown. "When that happens, guys are going to make more plays with the puck. A few weeks ago when we were going bad we would just dump the puck in."

Said Brown about the Ducks, "They've been playing good hockey lately so it was a huge effort by us."

"We've had this in us the whole time, but this is finally back-to-back games where we got some goals," left wing Taylor Pyatt said.

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