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Sabres Central

Rocky Road Horror Show haunts Sabres
By Rick Anderson
October 14, 2000

The Buffalo Sabres picked the inopportune time to run into a goalie who was on a mission Saturday night in Vancouver. As a result, the Sabres have now lost two straight and their proclaimed fast start is now history. Felix Potvin used the Buffalo Sabres to make a statement that he can still be one of the better goaltenders in the game as he posted a shutout and the Canucks beat the suddenly slumping Sabres 4-0.

Markus Naslund gets in alone on Dominik Hasek, but Hasek makes a great save on the shot. Hasek made 28 saves but allowed 4 goals in Vancouver's 4-0 victory.
[AP PHOTO/Chuck Stoody]

Potvin has been a target for some harsh criticism after posting a 5.45 GAA along with a 0.791 save average coming into the Sabres game. The fans were booing and the Vancouver press was ripping the goalie to shreds for being last among NHL goalies, especially when he allowed 3 goals on the first 3 shots the Avalanche took on him in his last start Thursday.

Potvin chose the Sabres for his redemption game. He stonewalled the Sabres, stopping all 27 of their shots and clearly was the better of the two goalies on the ice.

"I wish I could pinpoint something to change the output," said a smiling Potvin. "When I came to the rink I was pretty relaxed and having fun. You don't want to be too tense out there. I'll definitely sleep better tonight. I was just happy with the win. When we were up 4-0 I thought it was great. The shutout was just a bonus."

The Sabres goal this season was to have a much better start than the previous year, when they didn't win their fist game until the 8th contest of the season. The Sabres spent a little extra money to switch their training camp to Carolina to help the players "bond as a team." It seemed to work as the Sabres went 7-1 in the preseason and won their first two game coming out of the gate. Now, all that is a wash as they are now at .500 and appear to be sinking as fast as the Buffalo Bills.

While Potvin stole the show in Vancouver, the Sabres helped his cause by taking stupid penalties and not capitalizing on the few real good chances they had. The Sabres best two opportunities to his the back of the net were thwarted by Potvin. Doug Gilmour had a breakaway on the Canuck goalie, but was denied, as was Stu Barnes when he got his right skate on Barnes' one-timer after a 2-on-1 break.

"Unfortunately we ran into a hot goaltender," Gilmour said about his former Leafs teammate. "I've seen that before. He's a competitor and it's awesome to see that, just not against us. I know he took some heat the other night and he's going to bounce back for this hockey club."

At the other end of the ice, it was a frustrating night for Dominik Hasek. Hasek was tested 32 times, but allowed 4 to get past him. On the whole, the Dominator played another solid game, but a couple of those 4 goals he usually stops. The Sabres all-star backstop is now 0-2 and wondering what it'll take to get his first win of the season.

With almost 4 minutes gone in the first period, the Canucks came in on a 2-on-1 break. Hasek made an excellent sliding save on Steve Kariya, but a huge rebound came right to Brendan Morrison, who had no trouble finding the wide open net.

Then came the play that Hasek wishes he could have back. Trent Klatt got the puck all alone at center ice and Hasek, who had come all the way out to the blue line the night before to help break up a breakaway, was about to do so again. He started to come out, but then thought otherwise. In his attempt to back track into the crease, the Sabres goalie never made it back in time to properly set up. Hasek fell to his knees as Klatt was able to put a backhander into the open corner. That goal came at 11:07 of the second period, and the way Potvin was playing, most fans knew that this was not going to be Buffalo's night.

Things went from bad to worse for Hasek and his Sabres midway through the final stanza when Adrian Aucoin threaded a shot from the point that flew over the Dominator's right shoulder and into the net for a powerplay goal. To add insult to injury, Andrew Cassels scored another powerplay tally when his blast from the left faceoff circle got through Hasek. From that point on, Potvin kept the Sabres off the scoreboard and preserved his first shutout of the season.

"We have actually been moving the puck around on the power play, we just haven't been getting the scoring chances," said Aucoin about the suddenly potent Canuck powerplay. "The number one thing was just getting the puck on net. It was definitely a major change for us."

Hasek showed his frustration 8 minutes into the second period when he took exception to Matt Cooke driving him hard into the goalpost. Hasek charged after Cooke, throwing several punches before other players dove into the scrum and the refs broke it up. Actually, it was Curtis Brown who had pushed Cooke into Hasek in the first place. But the way the game was going, Hasek needed any excuse to relieve his frustrations. Hasek and Cooke received roughing penalties, while Brown got a holding call during the fisticuffs.

The Sabres powerplay, which appeared to be headed in another direction after the first two games of the season, has reverted to the dismal form that placed them in the very bottom of powerplay efficiency last season. In the first two games at home, the Sabres scored on 4 of their 11 opportunities. Now in the back-to-back road contests, the Sabres were shutout in their 12 chances.

"That was one of the biggest parts of the game," commented Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "We could have put Potvin in a little hole early but we didn't execute on the power play. We've missed the net way too many times on the power play in the last two games."

Dimitri Kalinin sends the Canucks' Todd Bertuzzi flying in the first period of Saturday night's 4-0 loss to Vancouver.
[AP PHOTO/Chuck Stoody]

Buffalo got a huge opportunity to puncture Potvin's armor when Mattias Ohlund took a double high sticking minor after clipping Gilmour in the cheek. The Sabres had a 5-on-3 for 56 seconds, but could do nothing with that advantage. The Sabres powerplay unit finished the night just like they had in Edmonton the night before, 0-for-6.

"The book on Felix was to hit the net," said Ruff. "We didn't hit the net, you can't score if you don't do that."

Ruff also set a couple of goals for the Sabres to meet in this 3-game road trip.

All through training camp, Ruff and his coaching staff were highlighting three concerns that had to be improved this season if the Sabres were to improve their lot. The road record of last season (14-21-6) left a lot to be desired. Back-to-back games was another troublesome area for Ruff's troopers last year. In the second half of the season, the Sabres posted a dismal 3-15-3 record in two games in two nights. Everyone who knows anything about the Sabres could guess at the third area of improvement Ruff highlighted for this season - the powerplay. After Saturday night's game, Ruff may be considering going back to the drawing board.

"Those are really the three areas," Ruff articulated. "The short- term goal for our team is play .500 on the road.. The road record dictates where you finish."

"We didn't do any of those three," admitted Jason Woolley. "We have to improve our road record. We have to improve the power play. I'm not doing a very good job right now. There's going to be some rocky roads."

The Sabres had better get off their current rocky road or they'll be back in the dire straits they found themselves early last season. After being winless in their first seven games, it took the whole season to play catchup and barely make the playoffs. The Sabres get a chance to end their Rocky Road horror story when they travel to Montreal for a game on Tuesday.

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