No, there is something Hasek can do, and maybe the final 35 minutes against New Jersey, when he settled in and stoned the Devils, was a start. But the more difficult task Hasek faces is solidifying the bond in his dressing room, a link that was stretched and probably frayed during the playoffs. He may have sprained a knee, but he definitely broke the Code by not attempting to play through the pain. In hockey there has to be trust. Right now Hasek needs that trust as much as he needs a shutout. The Sabres indignantly reject suggestions that they haven't played as hard for Hasek as they have for Shields. "The team's not going to say, 'Hey, screw him,' " Ray says. "That's not the way it is. It would make us look bad, in turn, because we're in this together. It's not just Dom's fault. It seems quite a few times this year we've been in la-la land in the first period."
Most of the breakdowns have been by the defensemen, though in the past Hasek was able to paper over such errors with his astonishing saves. "All confidence in hockey stems from one place: the goaltender," Ruff says. "The ability to make a mistake and know the mistake isn't going to lead to a goal—that confidence is missing now."
"If people are jumping off the ship, I haven't seen any of them in this room," Shields says of his teammates. "People in this room owe a lot to Dominik. If we hadn't had the season that we had last year, a lot of guys wouldn't have gotten the contracts they have now. Although it's been said that some people"—read: Barnaby—"are upset with him, guys owe a certain amount of respect to Dominik, regardless of their feelings, because he's put a lot of money in their pockets. People in Buffalo should sit down before they boo Dominik and think what life would have been like the past few years without him playing goal. You don't want to do anything that might put you in jeopardy of losing the best player in the league. Because you can't replace him."
The 32-year-old Hasek feels an obligation to the organization that let him become a starting goalie and grow into a star. He has a no-trade clause and has not requested a deal. While new general manager Darcy Regier has fielded calls from two teams inquiring about Hasek, the G.M. says that he isn't interested in exiling his most important player. "We have tremendous confidence in his ability and the team's ability to get through this," says Regier, whose team had gone winless in five games through Sunday.
But in a town without pity, the boos keep dumping more and more baggage at the feet of the once and possibly future king of goalies. When the pile gets too high, sometimes the best thing to do is grab a bag, sling it over your shoulder and leave.
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