Sabres Report: Coming Into Focus

By Ken McKenna

The fantasy league that is the NHL’s 2000 preseason has come to an end, with the Buffalo Sabres sporting a very impressive 7-1-0 record. Winning records in the preseason aren’t necessarily the stuff of legends, but even the most jaded Sabres fan has to go into the regular season feeling that Buffalo will be an improved team in 2000-01.

The major reason for the feeling of optimism is the play of some of the younger prospects in the organization, particularly that of Jean-Pierre Dumont, Dimitri Kalinin and Mika Noronen. These 3 youngsters all played a major role in crafting Buffalo’s winning preseason record, as they displayed the skills and maturity of veteran NHL performers. They, along with Denis Hamel, Eric Boulton and Jason Holland, made the final cutdown to 23 players, with Dumont, Kalinin, Boulton and Noronen almost certain to be in the opening night lineup vs. Chicago.

Another young prospect, Brian Campbell, appeared to shake off his forgettable performance of last season by displaying the considerable offensive skills that had been his bread-and-butter during his junior career. Brian was returned to Rochester for the start of the 2000-01 season, but he is certain to be the first call-up should an injury be suffered in the defensive ranks.

In addition to the strong play of the above-mentioned players, some of the other young veterans showed signs that they could be taking their games to a different level. Maxim Afinigenov continued to display speed and offense, but also appears to have realized that he has 2 other linemates with him on the ice. If Maxim continues to make use of his linemates in the regular season the way he did in the preseason, he could have a very good year offensively. Erik Rasmussen showed consistency in his game that had so far been missing during his NHL career, but he’ll probably need to generate a little more offense to keep the coaching staff happy.

For the record, the Sabres closed out the final portion of their preseason schedule with 2 wins and 1 loss. Buffalo picked up wins vs. Toronto (4-2) and Washington (5-1), before dropping their final exhibition game to Boston (3-1). The highlight of the victory over Toronto had to be J.P. Dumont’s beautiful goal, which saw him undress both Cory Cross and Glen Healy as he calmly flipped the puck past Healy for his 3rd goal of the preseason. Dimitri Kalinin also scored a goal, which was the result of some hard work by Kalinin in the Toronto zone late in the game.

Stu Barnes picked up a hat trick in Buffalo’s 5-1 win vs. Washington, in a game that reinforced the notion that these 2 teams simply don’t like each other. Both teams were guilty of some chippy play, which led to a handful of brawls, including the rare sighting of Jason Holland duking it out with Joe Sacco of the Caps. Holland held his own in a fight against a fairly tough customer, which may help to erase some of the thinking that he is a soft player. Denis Hamel chipped in a goal, with Norm Milley assisting, while J.P Dumont assisted on one of Barnes’ goals.

The final game vs. Boston featured Buffalo’s first lackadaisical performance of the preseason. The lone highlight was a nice goal by Maxim Afinogenov, which ended the shutout bid of Boston’s Byron Dafoe.

Below are the final 2000 preseason statistics for Buffalo:


Buffalo Sabres 2000-01 Preseason Statistics

Player

GP

G

A

Pts.

PIM

Chris Gratton

7

1

7

8

14

Miroslav Satan

5

4

3

7

2

Maxim Afinogenov

7

2

4

6

4

Stu Barnes

6

4

1

5

0

J.P. Dumont

8

3

2

5

8

Doug Gilmour

4

2

3

5

19

Dave Andreychuk

4

1

2

3

2

Vaclav Varada

5

1

2

3

12

Erik Rasmussen

7

1

2

3

2

Dimitri Kalinin*

8

1

2

3

2

Brian Campbell*

8

1

2

3

6

Denis Hamel*

5

2

0

2

2

Jason Woolley

1

1

1

2

0

Norm Milley*

4

1

1

2

6

Curtis Brown

6

1

1

2

2

Jeremy Adduono*

3

0

2

HEIGHT=16>

2

4

Jason Holland

3

0

2

2

5

Richard Smehlik

5

0

2

2

2

Alexei Zhitnik

6

0

2

2

6

James Patrick

3

0

1

1

2

Vladimir Tsyplakov

3

0

1

1

2

Jay McKee

7

0

1

1

6

Darren Van Oene*

1

0

0

0

2

Barrett Heisten*

2

0

0

0

4

Chris Taylor

4

0

0

0

2

Rhett Warrener

7

0

0

0

18

Rob Ray

7

0

0

0

18

Eric Boulton

8

0

0

0

53

Goaltenders

GP

Mins.

Avg.

W-L-T

SO

SV%

Mika Noronen*

4

211

0.85

3-0-0

1

0.963

Dominik Hasek

4

240

2.25

3-1-0

0

0.902

Tom Askey

1

29

4.14

1-0-0

0

0.875

*rookie

There appears to be great anticipation for this new season, as the team will have a (knock on wood) healthy Dominik Hasek, as well as full seasons from players like Doug Gilmour, Chris Gratton and Dave Andreychuk.

Much of Buffalo’s chances for success will hinge on the improvement of the offense, particularly the power play. The power play units should be solid up front, but there is still some question as to who will quarterback the power play. Brian Campbell looked like he could be up to the task, but he is back in Rochester to start the season. If Alexei Zhitnik can return to form, he will be the most likely candidate to fill this role, although Jason Woolley will also be called on to handle some of these chores.

With possibly the best group of goaltenders in the NHL, and a solid though unspectacular defensive corps, the Sabres should be able to hold their own against the majority of teams in the NHL. If indeed the offense is improved, the Sabres should then be amongst the elite teams in the league, and should be considered a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup.

For what it is worth, I think Buffalo is on the verge of being a dominant team. They have a good blend of size and speed, and they are very strong where it counts most, in goal. Darcy Regier has added some toughness and size to the lineup, so the smaller players on the team should have a little more room to roam. The solid drafting and shrewd trades of recent years appear to be paying off, as witnessed by the play of many youngsters in this preseason.

To be sure, there is still a lot of “ifs”- if the power play improves, if Gilmour and Andreychuk can stay healthy, if Zhitnik plays to his potential, if the young players contribute regularly, etc. Those questions will start to be answered on Thursday night, as Buffalo opens the season against the Blackhawks. Should these questions be answered in the affirmative, then fans of the Sabres could be treated to a very special season.

Let’s drop the puck!