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Sabres Central

Hasek back on top as he blanks Isles
By Rick Anderson
November 10, 2000

Is the Dominator finally back in form? Thursday night in the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, Dominik Hasek looked as if he's ready for the heavy load in front of the Sabres as he helped Buffalo beat the New York Islanders 3-0. With the victory, the Sabres remain unbeaten at home.

New York Islanders center Mats Lindgren becomes a fish sandwich as he gets squeezed between Sabres' Dave Andreychuk and Rob Ray during first period action Thursday.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

"It feels great," said Hasek after the game. "I have to give accolades to my teammates, especially my forwards, they back-checked so hard."

With Martin Biron back in the fold after signing a contract earlier this week and having already posted a shutout in his first game with the Rochester Americans, it could be that Dominik is feeling a little heat from down on the farm. Or maybe Hasek is actually getting himself out of the semi-funk he has been in since coming back from a knee injury. Whatever it is, the Sabres are more than happy to have the "old" Dominator back protecting their crease area. Everyone just hopes this will last.

"It's a great sign," said Hasek about finally getting a shutout. "It feels great. This shutout feels better than many shutouts before because it was my first of the season and I was criticized a little bit. However, it's only one shutout and only one game. There are many games ahead of us."

Hasek's last shutout came last April 6th. He is now tied at the 20th spot with Hall of Fame goalie Ken Dryden with 46 NHL career shutouts. The Dominator made 22 saves, several of them were spectacular, including a brilliant save on Tim Connolly when he had a breakaway.

"It's one of those games where we played pretty strong in front of him for two periods and he comes back with a third period where he shuts the door," said Dave Andreychuk, who scored one of the 3 Sabres goals. "He stays into the game mentally."

"The first two periods, I wasn't busy at all," Hasek said. "In the third, I had to make a couple saves. On the breakaway, I think the player (Connolly) was waiting until I went down and I never went down. I was waiting for his move and he just shot the puck."

Power Surge

Last season, the Sabres had the absolute worst powerplay in the league. This year, with a little tinkering during the offseason to add some power, the Sabres have turned that completely around. It took the Sabres 26 games to score their 13th powerplay goal last season. With the two powerplay goals they scored Thursday, the Sabres now have 13 in 13 games. What is the reason for such a turnaround?

First and foremost has to be the acquisition of Andreychuk during the off season. The lanky left winger came over from the Colorado Avalanche, who acquired him at the trading deadline last March from the Boston Bruins. Andreychuk was drafted by the Sabres in 1982 and played with them until he was traded to Toronto in 1993. He scored a total of 54 goals that year (29 with Buffalo and 25 with the Leafs) and went on to score another 53 goals the next year in a Leafs uniform. Big Dave played 4 years with the New Jersey Devils until going to Boston last season. But he was happy to come back where his NHL career started, a place where he still calls his home.

Thursday night was a memorable game for Andreychuk. While playing in his 1,300th career game, Andreychuk picked up a rebound, did a 360 and slammed home his 556th career goal. That goal tied him with John Bucyk for 16th on the NHL career goal list. It was his fourth goal this season, three of which were powerplay goals.

While Andreychuk has helped the powerplay production, he's not the sole reason for the turnaround. Doug Gilmour, who was acquired from Chicago last season at the trading deadline, is also a big force when the Sabres have the man advantage. Also new this season is the "other" player acquired in the trade for Gilmour, J.P. Dumont. Those three have added some punch to last season's punchless powerplay and may have inspired the mainstays on the squad.

Zhitnik Power

It's starting to look like the best thing that ever happened to Alexei Zhitnik was to be suspended by the NHL for four games. He has been playing stellar hockey since Sabres coach Lindy Ruff allowed him back on the ice without any further punishment when his suspension ended. Zhitnik rewarded Ruff for the ice time by getting two crucial assists in his first game back. He scored a goal against Montreal on last Friday, and then added his third goal of the season against the Isles. From just inside the blue line, Zhitnik slapped home a shot that beat New York goalie John Vanbiesbrouck up high. That goal opened the scoring and was during a Sabres powerplay. Zhitnik now has 7 points and appears to be trying to play a more disciplined game. The three goals that Zhitman has is one more than he scored all last season.

For the last year and a half, Zhitnik couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. All his slap shots were going over the glass, 20 rows up. Maybe the NHL slap on the wrist and some criticism from within the organization and outside has helped get his sights more focused.

"I'm just trying to get shots through," explained Zhitnik. "Before, I was trying to hammer the puck 90 miles an hour. Now, 80 miles an hour is good enough."

Dennis Hamel rounded off the scoring with his first in the third period. Hamel not only won the faceoff, but quickly swung around and rifled a shot past Vanbiesbrouck. It could be that Hamel is taking lessons from the master, Andreychuk.

Sabres Talk

Even though Hasek claims that he was doing nothing differently, others claim otherwise.

"He was hot today," said Vaclav Varada. "You see him bouncing around. He was joking around. Maybe that was the start we were looking for from him."

Dominik Hasek snares a shot while Isles' defenseman Roman Hamrlik stands ready for the rebound.
[AP Photo/Don Heupel]

Ruff agreed with Varada, saying, "He made two or three saves where you kind of shake your head and you say, "He's back.' "

"It was an all-around solid game,"continued Ruff about the overall team play. "I would love to play that type of game on the road. I thought our defensemen did a fabulous job tonight. They were standing them up at center ice and standing them up at the blue line. We took a lot of ice away."

The Sabres, who are now 6-0-1 at home, go back on the road for a contest against the World Champion New Jersey Devils on Saturday. The Sabres have only won one so far away from the HSBC Arena this season.

"If you play home, you feel the fans, you feel like you have to win," Hasek replied to the question why the Sabres are playing better at home than on the road. "Sometimes on the road, you're maybe a little bit too relaxed."

The Islanders, who have been doing much better than expected so far this season, hit a brick wall in Hasek.

"They might as well have stayed in their rooms," said Islander coach Butch Goring. The Islanders had a chance to overtake the Pittsburgh Penguins for first place in the Atlantic Division had they been able to solve Hasek.

"It has to be important for our hockey team to want to climb the ladder of success,"said Goring. "Tonight we played like that's not an important ladder for us to climb. The effort we made tonight was that we are satisfied with ourselves, and like we've been patting ourselves on the back too much."

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