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Sabres have been re-energized under Pegula

Tuesday, 03.08.2011 / 2:10 PM / NHL Insider

By Alan Robinson - NHL.com Correspondent

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Sabres have been re-energized under Pegula
New Sabres owner Terry Pegula will be in attendance Tuesday at his eighth straight game since buying the team, and Buffalo is 5-0-2 in his presence so far.
Team owners in professional sports rarely attend all of their team's games. If the Buffalo Sabres keep this up, look for Terry Pegula to be an exception.

Since Pegula bought the Sabres from Tom Golisano last month, his new team is 5-0-2 -- with Pegula in attendance for all seven games. He'll make it No. 8 when the Sabres play the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night, with Pegula expected to watch from a seat in the stands rather than from a private box.

Pegula wants to know what the fans are saying, what they're feeling, and he believes he gets a better idea of that when he's surrounded by ticket holders.  So far, it's obvious he's liked what he's heard -- and what he's seen.

What he won't see Tuesday night is Sabres leading scorer Thomas Vanek, who was ruled out with the flu after missing the pregame skate. Vanek has 23 goals and 32 assists for 55 points in 65 games.

Since Pegula took over, the Sabres have played themselves back into the top eight in the Eastern Conference standings -- exactly where they want to be when the regular season ends next month.

"I think Terry coming over has changed the mentality, it's been a good change for us, a little bit of fresh air," defenseman Jordan Leopold said. "We're playing well as a result of that, and also (because of) the time and situation of the season."

Some ownership changes are cosmetic, with no real difference other than the name atop the team's organizational chart. That's not the case in Buffalo, where Pegula has re-energized a city that's always had a passion for the sport, but fretted over the Sabres' future when the franchise went through bankruptcy in 2003.

"I think the good part is, with all of the rumors swirling around for months about whether the ownership was going to change, the person who stepped in is going to be a great owner," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "I think we've seen an immediate impact of that. Just since the press conference, you can see the excitement, the passion the man has for the team and the Sabres. And I think that's given us a little boost."

If there's another NHL franchise the Sabres might want to emulate with Pegula in charge, it's the Penguins. They also went through bankruptcy under a former owner 12 years ago but, under co-owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle, have become one of the model franchises in pro sports.

The Penguins will play before a 199th consecutive sellout crowd Tuesday night.

"It's pretty amazing," coach Dan Bylsma said. "Two days ago, I was in Barnes & Noble, and a woman tapped me on the shoulder, a Pittsburgh lady talking about 'our boys' and 'our team.' We've got great fans, great support, a great franchise, and we've got this beautiful new building (Consol Energy Center). It's tough to remember that time, but it wasn't that long ago."

While the Penguins played their 27th consecutive game without injured captain Sidney Crosby (concussion), they're actually closer to the Eastern Conference lead than they were when Crosby last played on Jan. 5.

They went into Tuesday's games trailing conference-leading Philadelphia by only two points after going 12-9-5 since Crosby last played. They are 4-6-4 without both Crosby and former NHL scoring champion Evgeni Malkin, who will miss the rest of the season following knee surgery.

"It looks different when you take Sidney Crosby off the ice because he's one of the best players in the world. You're not going to see as many highlight-reel goals from Craig Adams as you are Sidney Crosby," Bylsma said. "But we're playing the exact same way. We're asking the exact same from the team."

To Ruff, they've simply been the Penguins.

"There's a reason why they won the Stanley Cup a couple of years ago, and part of that is their depth and how hard they play," Ruff said.

The Sabres tapped some of their own organizational depth by calling up 34-year-old forward Mark Parrish and forward Luke Adam from Portland (American Hockey League). They are depleted not only because of Vanek's illness, but because of injuries to Jochen Hecht, Mike Grier and Patrick Kaleta. They recalled forward Mark Mancari from Portland before their 3-2 overtime win at Minnesota on Sunday.
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— Detroit Red Wings center Stephen Weiss on his sports hernia surgery