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Sabres Central

Sabres Vacation in Florida
By Rick Anderson
Sunday, November 14, 1999

It was nice to get away for a weekend in sunny Florida. The Buffalo Sabres are coming back today sporting new tans and are refreshed after being able to dive into summer activities once again. It was reported on Empire Sports last night that a lot of players took this trip to brush up on their golf game and were seen at swimming pools. That the Sabres didn't go down to play real hockey is self evident right now.

Last night the Buffalo Sabres concluded their weekend swing in Florida. They will arrive sometime today with a brand new two game losing streak and plenty of questions to answer. Apparently they forgot to pack their hockey sticks on their flight to Tampa the other day, for they left their game in Buffalo. The Sabres lost for a second consecutive night as Florida thrashed them 3-1. Until late in the game, it appeared that they weren't even going to score a goal.

Now that I'm standing on my soap box, lets discuss the Sabres inept effort in depth. Last season, when they were going deep into the playoffs, the key element to their game was the physical aspect. The Buffalo Sabres were a freight train running over everyone in their path. Except for a couple games this season (Dallas and Boston), the Sabres seem to have abandoned that aspect of their game for a more open and finesse style of play. The end result of that kind of thinking will produce the exact results they received during their fun vacation in Florida.

Their hitting game starts with their captain Mike Peca. Since the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Peca seems more concerned with protecting his wiry frame than delivering his famous open-ice hits. Maybe his married life has changed his attitude or the many commercials he and his wife are doing for Tops Friendly Markets has caused Peca to soften his game. Whatever it is, he better get his head screwed back on straight and remember what got him this far in the NHL in the first place. Peca's contract runs out after this season, so if he wants to join Miro Satan with the big bucks, he has got to start producing the big hits.

The two outstanding games the Sabres played this season were against Dallas and Boston. In Dallas, the Sabres played one of their most outstanding road games in years as they held the World Champion Stars at bay and recorded a 3-1 victory by standing up to the bigger Stars players and playing a form of the trap. The same was true this Wednesday against Boston. The Bruins had a very difficult time penetrating the Sabres zone in the first two periods, and were forced to dump it in and chase most of the time. Against the two Florida teams, the Sabres looked like an expansion team as they tried to open it up and thought they were playing by women's hockey rules where you cannot check.

The three Florida goals last night came as a result of breakaways or a 2-on-1 break. The Sabres coughed up the puck and were caught up the ice. One goal was when Buffalo was on the powerplay and Pavel Bure got the puck and darted down the ice on a breakaway. It was the second straight game that the Sabres gave up a goal while a man up. The Sabres special teams are not so special this year. Like last season, Buffalo is near the bottom in powerplay production. Giving up a goal while a man up is inexcusable. To do so in two straight games is a capital crime!

The Sabres retreat to Florida was just that, a retreat. They went to the Sunshine State to get plenty of that state's natural resource: the sun. The fault for the team's lack of mental preparedness has to go directly to the coaching staff. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Lindy Ruff was in the leading foursome around Florida's favorite golf courses this weekend. Another head coach from another sport in Miami would not stand for such leisurely activities while preparing for a big game. Ask the Miami Dolphins when the last time Jimmy Johnson let them partake in fun activities while on a road trip, or even at home for that matter. Lindy has to get a tight grip on his players and put a leash on them. He also has to acquire Jimmy Johnson's no-nonsense approach to coaching if the Sabres are to break even on this four game road tip. The Sabres next two games are in Pittsburgh on Tuesday and back down south in Atlanta on Friday. Someone tell Ruff to forbid golf clubs on the team's trip to Atlanta on Thursday and that criterion should also apply to the coaching staff.


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