Site hosted by Build your free website today!

Sabres Central

Sabres lack of scoring has Ruff in a tizzy
By Rick Anderson
Sunday, December 12, 1999

Last June the words "no goal" represented the Sabres version of "wide right." Lindy Ruff uttered those words during the rally the city of Buffalo staged for their heros who had come so close to winning hockey's ultimate prize. It was a beautiful summer day on June 22 in sunny Buffalo where 20,000 Sabres fans flocked to give the Buffalo Sabres one last "thank you" for a job well done.

The city paid tribute to a team that fought against all odds and came withing a whisker (or a blown video review) of taking the Stanley Cup Finals to the limit. Lindy Ruff closed out his speech by saying "I have two words to close with: NOOOOOO GOOOAL!" With that, the crowd went berserk.

That was then and this is now. The "no goal" has been lifted off Brett Hull's shoulders and placed squarely on the entire Sabres squad this season. Scoring was tough during the regular season last year. This year it has been even worse.

Sabres Captain Michael Peca has been in a prolonged scoring slump. He is at 5 goals and holding. Stu Barnes is another scorer who's in a severe funk with only 6 goals. Then you have Four Horsemen, all the forwards stuck at four goals: Brian Holzinger, Geoff Sanderson, Wayne Primeau and Erik Rasmussen. Dixon Ward has only two goals since getting his new contract. Vaclav Varada has only one goal to show for his efforts.

This scoring drought clearly has to stop. The Sabres at this rate won't even make the playoffs if they don't start lighting the lamp with much more frequency.

The Sabres took a couple baby steps in that direction with their 2-1 win over the last place Chicago Blackhawks Friday night. When Miroslav Satan scored at the 34 second mark of the third period, it broke a scoreless streak of 162 minutes and 29 seconds, over 8 periods of shooting blanks by the Sabres. Satan stole the puck at the Chicago blue line and broke in alone on Hawks goalie Steve Passmore. He deked him with a move to the left and then came back with a backhander that snuck in the open side and a huge sigh of relief was heard over the thunderous ovation the fans were giving the team. The ice was broken. Now maybe the Sabres could get on with business and start improving their position in the Northeast Division.

"It was getting irritating," Lindy Ruff said after the game. "Some guy yelled out ‘this ain't rugby.' He was starting to get a little irritating too."

It was more like World Cup soccer than rugby. Especially that 0-0 tie with the Ottawa Senators two nights before. In that one, the Sabres had tons of chances to hit the back of the net and came up short.

"We deserved better," said Ruff about the Ottawa tie. "When you're losing and you're struggling, you don't get a lot of bounces. We didn't get a lot of bounces, but we worked hard to get the chances we got."

When the Sabres went two more periods without scoring against the hapless Blackhawks, Ruff was wondering when his team would score again.

"I'd hate to have waited another ten or fifteen minutes to see a goal go in because I think I was like everybody else in the building," said Ruff.

"You start wondering why, you start thinking this one has to bounce in somewhere." Ruff continued. "You've seen some scary streaks before where a team can go a couple games without scoring a goal. Players start to press and every little mistake you make seems to be just critical because you know you're not scoring goals. I think you start accentuating the negative because you're worried about one mistake killing you, when instead if you had scored three or four goals that one mistake wouldn't be that important."

The players were also scratching their heads when they headed to the locker room losing 1-0 to Chicago after two periods.

"I thought we were going to come up with some goals tonight and if we didn't we would have all had to go into therapy," said Jason Woolley.

What was Ruff to do to get his club out of their terrible scoring slump? He's been at his wits end. He had benched players, brought players up from Rochester and on Thursday even went to a bizarre shoot-only practice where the team spent an hour just shooting on the goalies at both ends of the rink. His strategy seemed to work in reverse Friday night as the first goal of the game came when Sanderson scored into his own net!

Blair Atcheynum tried to pass in front of the net and it glanced off Sanderson's skate and past Biron for the Blackhawks first and only goal. OOPS!

"Geoff thought I was going to cover it for him, and he was starting to take off," Biron defended the Sandman. "It was one of those plays where you both just kind of look at each other."

When the Sabres came out for the third period against the Hawks, Satan was determined to end the scoring drought once and for all. Bryan McCabe got in front of a Curtis Brown pass to Satan, and he couldn't handle it. So Miro scooped it up and waltzed in all alone on Passmore juking the goalie and flipping it in with his patented backhand.

"For me, it was a long time coming," a relieved Satan said. "I usually don't need so many scoring chances to score a goal. The last couple games were just awful. I couldn't do anything. I was happy I was finally able to put it in."

Satan is one of the two pure goal scorers the Sabres have. Maxim Afinogenov, the Russian Rocket, got a perfect feed from Ward and shot a one-timer from the slot to win the game. It was Mad Max's seventh of the season and the Sabres are hoping a lot more are coming. He has some of the moves of Gil Perreault and is very exciting to watch. Even Lindy loves watching the kid perform his magic.

"It seems when he gets the puck on his stick now it's going to go in the net and that's great to see." beamed Ruff. "He's an exciting kid to watch play. You stick him out there, you watch him juke and jive and twist and turn and when he gets a step on a defenseman wide, you know he's got him beat. He drew an important penalty for us. He turning into a good player for us."

Now that Maxim and Miroslav have broken the goose egg, it's time for some of the other "scorers" to produce. Brown has 10, but has been stuck on that number almost as long as Peca has been stuck on half that amount. Barnes is streaky and when he starts scoring again they will come in bunches. That leaves Holzinger and Sanderson to get themselves onto the scoring sheets if they want to continue their careers here.

There have been lots of rumors involving the Calgary Flames' Cory Stillman and the Sabres. The Flames want something in return for their left winger who has 12 goals and 20 points so far this year. The asking price seems a little too steep right now. Calgary is wants a player like Cory Sarich, Martin Biron or Maxim Afinogenov. Those players are the core of Buffalo's hockey future and it is very doubtful that Darcy Regier or Ruff will agree to send any of those kids packing. Now if a deal involved Richard Smehlik, who has sat out the last 4 games, Dixon Ward, Holzinger or Sanderson, it could be agreeable to both sides.

Whatever the Sabres decide to do, they must add to their scoring potential. It is there in Satan, who has 13 and Afinogenov with seven and counting, but it falls off drastically after that. With the season inching towards the halfway mark, it is imperative that Buffalo makes a deal that will get another sniper to go along with Satan and Afinogenov. If they don't, they may be sitting on the sidelines come May.


Copyright © 1999 Sabres Central, all rights reserved