Work in Sports
NORTHEAST DIVISION |
2 Buffalo Sabres
Team Page | 2000-2001 Schedule | Roster
Sports Illustrated Ranking: 9
By Richard Deitsch
It was arguably the most public declaration about private parts in Buffalo sports history. After missing 40 games last season with a torn groin muscle, goaltender Dominik Hasek returned from his native Czech Republic this summer with an optimistic diagnosis that could be the prescription for his team's woes. "I took care of my groin," Hasek informed reporters on the first day of training camp. "I played lots of tennis and squash and never had any problems. I was on the ice four times and never had any problems."
Being problem-free would be a welcome change for a team besotted with them a year ago. Expected to be a contender for the Stanley Cup after reaching the finals two years ago, the Sabres came out of the gate (0-5-2 in the first seven games) as if hungover from the previous season's success. A late surge, keyed by the addition of forward Doug Gilmour (73 points in 74 games) just before the trading deadline, pushed Buffalo into the playoffs on the final day of the season. In Round 1, however, they were eliminated by the Flyers in five games. "Last year's start was something we never recovered from," says coach Lindy Ruff before saying what goes without saying: "We need to get off to a good start this season."
A healthy Hasek, who suffered a minor knee injury in the team's opener but should return later this week, could ensure that. Ruff says he envisions Hasek playing between 60 and 70 games and returning to his usual dominating form.
Even if Hasek is his old impenetrable self, the Sabres must improve a power play that ranked last in the league in efficiency (10.5%). Having the 37-year-old Gilmour for a full season should help, but the unit's struggles will continue unless point men Alexei Zhitnik and Jason Woolley rebound from subpar years. The Sabres will also need to cope with the early absence of captain Mike Peca and backup goalie Martin Biron (he had five shutouts as a rookie in 1999-2000), both of whom were holding out in contract disputes.
"Our goal is simply to make the playoffs and take it from there," says Gilmour. "Except this season, we want to make the playoffs by February."
Issue date: October 16, 2000
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