Geoff Sanderson's palms are sweaty, his face is flushed and his
icy blue eyes are glazed over as they focus intensely on his
He knows how hot he has been lately - a hunk of burning love
scoring like mad the previous Saturday night - but he can hardly
believe his luck when he realizes the object of his lust will
have no defense against his charming moves.
And with Mike Peca, the Best Looking Man in Buffalo, setting him
up, Sanderson figures he can't go wrong. Before he evens feels it
on his stick, it's in.
Suddenly there's a flashing light and moaning, but the
well-traveled 26-year-old professional athlete has gotten this
reaction many times before. Been there, done that.
John Vanbiesbrouck just couldn't resist.
Peca faked a shot on a two-on-one break and pulled the goaltender
towards him before slipping a sneaky pass to Sanderson, who
flicked the puck into the wide-open Philadelphia net as
Vanbiesbrouck scrambled hopelessly to get back into position.
After the red light stopped flashing and the disgusted Flyers
fans quit moaning, Sanderson tried to smile as he touched gloves
with his teammates at the bench, but he really wasn't feeling
well. He took his gloves off, wiped his sweat-drenched forehead
and wished he was back home in bed, alone.
"Damn flu," he muttered.
Now, what were you thinking?
The red-hot Sanderson's goal, his fourth in three games including
a hat trick in Toronto, came on November 7 in a 2-2 tie that
extended the Sabres' unbeaten streak to five. The 3-0-2 stretch -
during which Sanderson and his teammates exploded for 16 goals, a
veritable Horseshoe Falls-like torrent of scoring for the Sabres
- propelled Buffalo from worst to first in the Northeast
Hat tricks are great, but balanced scoring is still the key to
the Sabres' attack. Despite being seventh in the NHL in goals per
game, the Sabres don't have a player in the top 35 in points.
Miroslav Satan, the leading scorer last season with just 46
points, is 37th, as of this writing.
But the lack of a Jagr or a Kariya hasn't stopped the Sabres from
lighting up several scoreboards around the NHL, despite the
continuing holdout of sniper Donald Audette (see "Holdouts"
below). In five of their 11 games so far this season, the Sabres
have scored four or more goals. Their goals-per-game output
is up from last season, from 2.57 to 2.73, not a huge improvement
but enough to make beating the Sabres and Hasek just a little
more difficult than it already was.
That task might become next to impossible if Sanderson maintains
his fever pitch. He should if he keeps shooting the puck,
something the coaches had to tell the unselfish winger to do. In
the first five games of the season, Sanderson took just nine
shots, scoring twice. Sanderson had 20 shots in the next six
games and scored four goals. If Sanderson can stay healthy and
continue to average 2.63 shots per game, his current 20.7%
shooting percentage, if maintained, would yield about 45 goals by
Don't you love statistics?
Even without a 40-goal season, Sanderson may still enjoy one of
the most dramatic personal comebacks of this NHL season. He
scored just 11 goals last season while playing for three teams.
Moves to Carolina, Vancouver and Buffalo in a matter of months
disrupted Sanderson's life and shook his confidence. He converted
on just 6% of 192 shots.
In his time with the Sabres, everyone could see that the speed
and scoring chances were still there, but the scoring touch
wasn't. Sanderson scored the overtime game-winning goal in Game
One of the conference semifinals, but he clearly needed an off-
season to get his head and game back together.
By opening night, it was apparent he was ready to rejoin the
ranks of legitimate NHL snipers. Though his first goal of the
year was a simple deflection at Dallas, the fact it came on
opening night and involved a bit of luck was an omen this season
might be Sanderson's Indian Summer.
The goals since then have come more spectacularly. There was a
wrist shot just inside the goal post only 11 seconds into the
home opener and a hat trick on Halloween in Toronto (see "Game of
the Fortnight" below).
But this season hasn't been all spectacular goal after
spectacular goal for the Sabres.
On Broadway, the Sabres couldn't buy a ticket to "Cats," let
alone a single goal as they skated to a scoreless tie with the
New York Rangers in Madison Square Garden on October 27.
For the second time in three games, the Sabres had zero goals,
and in the first seven games, the line of Michal Grosek, Curtis
Brown and Matthew Barnaby had zero even-strength goals.
All the zeros were starting to get on Head Coach Lindy Ruff's
nerves. In a daring move, Ruff sat out Dixon Ward, the left
winger on the highly effective checking line and one of the top
performers of the early season, so Derek Plante could play in the
home game with the Toronto Maple Leafs on October 30.
Putting Plante, who had missed five of the seven games, back into
the lineup was just the first part of Ruff's strategy for finally
getting some positive numbers on the board. In the practices
leading up to the Leafs game, while the coach considered new line
combinations, he drilled - literally - the need to shoot the
puck, block the goaltender's lines of sight and go to the net,
things the Sabres had stopped doing.
Paying the price to score.
The price must have been right against the Leafs as the Sabres
responded to Ruff's coaching with two goals after scrambles in
front of the net, one goal on a deflection and one goal off a
The new line of Plante, left winger Grosek and right winger Satan
figured in three first period goals, as many as the Sabres had
scored in the opening stanza all season. Plante had a goal and an
assist, Grosek added a goal and Satan tallied two assists in the
4-1 scrapbooking of the Leafs.
Ruff had coached the Sabres out of their offensive woes, but
there would be more coaching to do in a few days. Barnaby was
suspended for elbowing P.J. Axelsson of the Bruins on November 3
(see "Killer Stupidity" below), and center Wayne Primeau and left
winger Paul Kruse were injured.
Luckily, Ruff had the luxury of calling up from Rochacha an NHL
veteran and former captain in 37-year-old Randy Cunneyworth and
highly touted 21-year-old Erik Rasmussen for the game in Philly.
Rasmussen was three years old when Cunneyworth was drafted by the
Sabres in 1980.
Rasmussen responded with a strong game along the boards and heady
play all over the ice, and Cunneyworth chipped in by lowering his
shoulder into the hip of Flyers defenseman Eric Desjardins,
flipping him back-first to the ice.
Geoff Sanderson didn't have the best bang of the day, after all.
Killer Barnaby has been Bam-Bam-ing anything that moves lately.
Opponents, teammates, bar patrons. Only Santa Claus has been
safe. More on that later.
Everything started in Toronto on Halloween when Barnaby got into
a couple of dustups with Kris King of the Leafs. In the wee hours
of Sunday morning back in Buffalo, Barnaby was involved in a
brouhaha with a bar patron who had smacked his wife, Christine,
in the face, according to the Buffalo News. Mrs. Barnaby
reportedly squirted ketchup on the man for lewd comments he had
directed toward her and a friend outside a Buffalo drinking
establishment, wrote the News.
"He hit her pretty good. That's when I hit him," Barnaby told the
News. No charges were filed against Barnaby or the patron.
Then on Tuesday, Barnaby really lost it. He viciously elbowed the
Bruins P.J. Axelsson in the side of the face. The sickening thing
is, it was Axelsson's second concussion in a week, the first on
October 28 when he was elbowed in the head by Montreal's Dave
In practice the next day, Barnaby accidently ran into Wayne
Primeau, who suffered a shoulder injury that would sideline him
for 7-10 days.
On the ice where Pat LaFontaine's brilliant career that meant so
much to Sabres fans was effectively ended, Barnaby's elbow was
Still, when the league announced its four-game suspension and
$1,000 fine, Barnaby appeared on the Empire Sports Network to
defend his actions, saying he caught Axelsson with his "biceps."
If that were the case, Axelsson would have barely noticed the
Barnaby's elbow was senseless and selfish. Inconsistent ruling by
Colin Campbell? Not as bad as Eric Lindros' hit on Andreas
Doesn't matter. All that matters is that no player dies on the
ice, a tragic event this game is perilously close to if the likes
of the head-hunting Barnaby skates with impunity.
More on this below. See "What's Your Beef-alo?"
Highlights Of The Fortnight
Goal - On October 31 at Toronto, Miroslav Satan skated
over the Leafs line, threw out the anchor at the right point and
found Geoff Sanderson with a rink-wide pass at the top of the
left circle. Sanderson penetrated the circle before releasing a
shot that sailed over the right shoulder of Felix Potvin.
Save - Make that saves. At Philadelphia on November 7 with
the game tied at 2-2 late in the third period, John LeClair faked
a shot at the top of the right circle, then cut to the slot and
fired away. Lower pad save! Rod Brind'Amour followed up on the
rebound. Right pad save! Eric Lindros spun away from Derek
Plante and swept the loose puck toward the spread-eagled Dominik
Hasek. Left pad save! Hasek made so many absorbing pad saves, he
might be the next commercial spokesman for Depends.
Hit - The Leafs Mats Sundin was snaking through center ice
in Buffalo on October 30, then gathering speed as he cruised over
the Sabres blue line and cutting to his right when...WHACK!
Sundin was bent back from Mike Peca's jolting open-ice upper-body
hit and sent spilling. Sundin wasn't heard from the rest of the
night: the superstar center who had four goals and seven assists
in the first eight games was held pointless.
Game - Sabres 6, Maple Leafs 3
On Halloween, what could have been more frightening for the
Toronto Maple Leafs than seeing Satan himself score a goal and
add an assist?
Watching the corpse of a former 40-goal scorer erupt from its
earthy grave and come back to life before their very eyes, that's
Geoff Sanderson, dressed up in a tattered, blood-stained Whalers
sweater and pretending to be a natural-born goal scorer again,
hat-tricked Toronto goaltender Felix Potvin three times and
helped the Sabres treat their fans to a 6-3 win over the Leafs
and a sweep of the home-and-home series with their new-found
rivals to the north.
The victory on All Hallow's Eve in the old, cobweb-strewn barn
that is Maple Leaf Gardens wasn't quite the easy reward that
millions of kids enjoyed that night simply by holding out their
sacks and saying "trick or treat," but the Sabres managed to end
up with a bagful of candy in the end after losing their 3-0 lead
in the second period.
And no one had more sugary loot in his basket when the final
doorbell was rung than Sanderson, who was so money on a chilly
night in T-town, he was practically worth 100 Grand.
The Devil himself assisted on Sanderson's opening goal late in
the first period with the Sabres already leading 1-0. Satan
whirled in over the Toronto line, threw out the 'chute at the
right point and Pez-dispensed a rink-wide pass to Sanderson, who
took the pass and made one stride inside the left circle before
half-slapping a rising shot over the right shoulder of Felix
Potvin for his third goal of the season.
Less than two minutes into the second period, Sanderson
Blow-Popped another one, taking a short pass from Rob Ray at
center ice, Skittling down the right wing on a 2-on-1 with Brian
Holzinger and beating Joseph to the five-hole from the right
faceoff dot for a 3-0 Buffalo lead.
But for the third Saturday Night Live in a row, there was a wild
comeback involving the Sabres, except this time it was the Leafs
engineering it with three goals in 3:58, the last by - who else?
- Igor...Igor Korolev.
The Sabres were going to Reese's Pieces in a hurry, and the crowd
in the ancient hall with the balcony at one end and the stenciled
concrete walls behind the benches was howling frightfully as the
Leafs picked up the hitting.
With 2:40 left in the second period, the Sabres checking line of
Mike Peca, Dixon Ward and Vaclav Varada got their collective
Atomic Fireballs in an uproar and turned the momentum of the game
around. They cycled the puck behind the Toronto net before Ward
slipped it back to Alexei Zhitnik at the left point. Zhitnik
moved to his right to allow Peca to set up in front before
whipping a shot toward the goal that Peca tipped past Potvin to
give the Sabres a new lead, 4-3.
Peca quieted the creepy old house, but it was Sanderson who
stunned it with his hat trick goal early in the third period.
Sanderson took a return pass from Barnaby at the left faceoff dot
and flipped a quick shot over the glove of Potvin just inside the
far post for his third of the night and Fifth Avenue of the
Was Sanderson ever on a Tootsie Roll!
At the other end, Hasek, in danger of letting a fourth goal slip
through his ButterFingers and suffering his fourth consecutive
nightmarish Saturday night, flipped the porch light off and
invited the punks in the Leaf sweaters to smash his pumpkin. They
could not even dent it.
With 15:27 to go in the third period, Mats Sundin and Steve
Thomas broke over the Sabres line on a 2-on-1; Sundin faked a
shot at the top of the left circle then slid the puck through
Zhitnik onto Thomas' stick. Thomas quickly released a shot from
the bottom of the right circle that Hasek sprawled to save with
his catching glove. Of course Hasek lost his Cinnamon Stick in
the process, but what a Life Saver it was!
When Zhitnik finished the scoring and the Leafs' hopes with an
empty-net goal with 37 seconds left, there were relieved Snickers
on the faces of the Sabres players and coaches up and down the
bench as Lindy Ruff took a long, deep drag on a candy cigarette
and Barnaby threw Hershey Kisses to the hissing crowd.
On this spooky night filled with Good 'n' Plenty treats, though,
it was Sanderson who enjoyed the tastiest PayDay of his short
time in a Sabres uniform.
Sabres 0, Rangers 0
Dominik Hasek got by with a little help from his friends, the
goal posts, to record his second shutout of the season, fourth in
a row against the New York Rangers and 35th of his career. The
Rangers hit the pipe three times and put only 16 shots on the
board, at one time going 21 minutes without a shot on goal.
In the end, Hasek stretched his shutout streak against the
Rangers to 263:46 (119 shots) as the Sabres became the first team
in the 72-year history of the Rangers to shut them out four games
in a row. Mike Richter was great at the other end, too, stopping
24 Sabres shots and putting his 19th shutout in the books.
The scoreless tie ended a disappointing little visit to the Big
Apple (the Sabres lost on a last-minute breakaway goal on Long
Island before heading to MSG) and prompted Coach Lindy Ruff to
make line and lineup changes that paid off in a big way later in
Sabres 4, Maple Leafs 1
That thud you heard coming from the Marine Midland Arena on
October 30 just after Mike Peca rocked Mats Sundin at the Sabres
blue line was the sound of poor Dixon Ward getting smacked in the
Ward - a healthy scratch (except for his thrice-broken nose) -
was forced to watch from the press box as his replacement Derek
Plante first scored a goal that was disallowed, then cashed
another that did count and finally added an assist while
centering a line that recorded five points in the Sabres 4-1
defeat of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The newly configured line of Plante, left winger Michal Grosek
and right winger Miroslav Satan had a hand in three first period
goals, as many as the Sabres had scored in the opening stanza all
season. Grosek added a goal and Satan two assists as the Sabres
broke out of a scoring slump and blew the Leafs away in the
renewal of an old Adams Division rivalry.
Sabres 4, Bruins 2
At the Marine Midland Arena, four different Sabres - Dixon Ward,
Miroslav Satan, Curtis Brown and Michal Grosek - continued the
Sabres recent scoring barrage, and Dominik Hasek had to make only
18 saves in a 4-2 win over the Boston Bruins.
Derek Plante made an amazing LA-to-NY rush before setting up
Brown's game-winning goal. Plante started at his own goal line,
cruised through center ice and broke over the Boston blue line
before making an inside-outside move on defenseman Don Sweeney.
With Sweeney grabbing his left arm, Plante cut toward the front
of the net as the puck squirted to the trailing Brown, who fired
a short shot into the net to give the Sabres a 3-1 lead.
Hasek won his 157th game in a Sabres uniform and surpassed Donny
Edwards, who won 156 in the late 70s and early 80s.
Sabres 2, Flyers 2
After the Flyers dominated the third period but settled for a 2-2
tie that pushed to five both their winless streak (0-3-2) and the
Sabres' unbeaten stretch (3-0-2), Eric Lindros and Company had to
realize that not a lot has changed since Michal Grosek flipped
his own rebound over the glove of Sean Burke to dispatch the
Flyers from the first round of the playoffs last spring.
Yes, the Flyers have better goaltending, but they still rely on
two or three players to put the puck in the net, they still have
a slow, mistake-prone defense, and they still can't beat Dominik
Hasek and the Sabres when it really counts.
Like late in the third period of a tied game, when Hasek made
four typical Hasek-like saves (see "Save of the Fortnight" above)
as the Flyers poured 12 shots on goal in a desperate attempt to
avenge the events of last May 1.
Geoff Sanderson stayed hot, scoring his fourth goal in three
games while playing with a flu-induced fever.
In The (Buffalo) Wings
November 20-21 - Another home-and-home series with the Maple
Leafs just three weeks after the last. Inexplicable scheduling,
if you ask me. After five days off - the second of four such
breaks the Sabres have this season - fans will be desperate for
the Sabres-Leafs game in Buffalo on the 20th.
Lindy Ruff might want to consider keeping Derek Plante in the
lineup. In the five games Plante has sat out this season, the
Sabres are 1-3-1 and have scored 1.8 goals per game. In the six
games Plante has played, the Sabres are 4-0-2 and have scored 3.5
goals per game.
Holdout right winger Donald Audette's agent, Gilles Lupien,
considers this a divorce. The talks between the team and Lupien
have reached an impasse over two option years in a three-year
contract, and Lupien told Empire Sports Network on November 9
that his client wants to be traded. The agent compared the
situation to an endlessly bickering couple who might as well get
divorced if reconciliation is not possible. No word on who will
get Audette's six-month-old pure-bred Labrador Retriever pup. OK,
so there is no such puppy. I made that up.
As for Mike Wilson, squint toward the Great White North and look
for the flashing lights. No, it's not the aurora borealis, it's
the Blue Light Special that K-Mart (I hope they have a store in
Canada) is having in the Mike Wilson Department.
The Revenge Tour
Pack up the speakers, pay off the stage hands and point the
groupies toward the Interstate.
The Buffalo Sabres North American Playoff Revenge Tour is over.
On the tour's first night at a jam-packed Molson Centre, all the
Montreal Canadiens could do was goon up the ice, then lose a
three-goal lead and the game in their attempt to pay back the
Sabres for sweeping them in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Less than a week later, the show stopped in Buffalo for one night
only at the Marine Midland Arena, where the Sabres failed to
score a single goal against Olaf Kolzig and the Washington
Capitals as they sought retribution against the team that kept
them out of the Stanley Cup finals.
Finally, on November 7 at the First Union Center in Philadelphia
before 19,584 fans who didn't have anyone to boo until they
realized in the final seconds the home team would not score in
overtime, the Flyers found out what the Canadiens and Sabres had
discovered in the previous weeks: Revenge is hard to stage.
The Rigas Touch
Kindly old Sabres owner John Rigas, a 5'2 white-haired gent with
furry eyebrows that seem to be pasted on, has injected the
Buffalo Sabres organization with a touch of homespun class.
Rigas, who grew up in the small town of Wellsville, NY, and
operates his Adelphia Communications giant from tiny Coudersport,
PA, has a real way with people. During the playoffs last
spring, he went into the locker room and touched Miroslav Satan's
stick. The Unabrow-mer, of course, scored a lucky goal that
night. Rigas walks around the arena during intermissions and
chats with fans; he even knows ushers by name.
The Sabres telecast, in an unmistakable sign of the Rigas style,
features hellos to sick people in hospitals and interviews with
long-time season ticket holders. A couple of rows of seats are
reserved for community service organizations that use the tickets
to treat worthy kids to a game, and the kids are shown on TV to
It's good business. The team's season ticket base has rebounded
to about 10,000 again after falling to 8,500 in the wake of The
Summer That Buffalo Burned. Meanwhile, attendance for the first
four home games this season is averaging 16,837, more than 3,000
more than last fall, a 23% increase. They say all that Rigas
touches turns to gold. Well, corn is golden, too, fella. I'm not
sure what that means, actually.
Doesn't Bruins coach Pat Burns look like the villainous cartoon
character who used to tie young damsels-in-distress to railroad
tracks? Can anyone help me out here? E-mail me.
Back to Barnaby's Ketchup Fiasco: A third man - dressed as Kris
Kringle - was charged with disorderly conduct for "failing to
disperse the area of the fight...and pushing an officer,"
according to the Buffalo News. "Santa might have been there but I
wasn't paying attention to what he was doing," Barnaby told the
News. "I didn't hit Santa." Miro Satan did however fall on a
squeeze bottle of spicy brown mustard during the melee and
required hospital treatment. One in a million shot, Doc.
Bruce Garrioch, a sports writer for the Ottawa Sun, speculated
that with the no-trade clause in Dominik Hasek's contract ending
soon, the Sabres might consider shopping him to get some goal
scorers. Share the 'shrooms!
What's Your Beef-alo?
NHL Disciplinarian Colin Campbell says Matt Barnaby should sit
down for at least 240 minutes of hockey for his elbow on P.J.
Axelsson, maybe as long as 260 minutes if all of the Sabres games
go to the end of overtime. How many minutes did referee Mick
McGeough say he should sit down? Zero. Television replays clearly
show McGeough at the Buffalo blue line looking right at the
cheap shot, which came near center ice. He made no call. The
league should suspend McGeough for four games. I'm dreaming, I
know. I also can only imagine how hard it is to officiate an NHL
game, but something's wrong here. If an arm didn't go up on the
Barnaby hit, at least a red flag should go up on the officiating
of Mick McGeough. I won't even make a Mr. Magoo reference. You're