September 27, 2005
TORONTO (CP) -- The Buffalo Sabres are going to be much better than the so-called experts are predicting, says nifty little centre Daniel Briere.
The Sabres have missed the playoffs for three years in a row, and pre-season prognosticators are quick to make it four -- in large part due to the absence of big-name stars on the roster.
"We don't have a problem with predictions that put us in the last three in the conference," says Briere, the five-foot-10 centre who relishes the chance to prove everybody wrong. "We'll be much better than the experts are saying.
"We believe we'll make the playoffs."
A 5-2 victory Tuesday night over Toronto improved their pre-season record to 5-1-0.
A big reason why the Sabres are doing so well in the pre-season is that they've adapted faster than many other teams to the NHL's new obstruction-free style of play.
"We believe we have good enough speed to take advantage of teams with the new rules," said Briere. "We're working on drills in camp to go around checkers . . . to keep moving our feet.
"We're trying to get ahead of the curve and maybe surprise some teams early" in the new season that begins Oct. 5.
They're way ahead of the Leafs in this regard.
While they sensibly refrained from committing obstruction fouls, the Sabres took advantage of a steady stream of Leafs to the penalty box and got power-play goals from Chris Drury, Jason Pominville, Paul Gaustad and Briere in the first 40 minutes to pull ahead 4-1. It was all over -- thanks to Buffalo's speed and smarts.
Buffalo was 4-for-10 and Toronto 0-for-3 on power plays after two periods in front of a largely-disappointed Air Canada Centre crowd of 18,831.
Coach Lindy Ruff has strictly enforced obstruction calls in daily practices, and he's told his players to let opponents take shots on goal rather than hook and grab and wind up in the penalty box.
"Staying out of the penalty box has been the focus of our camp," he said.
Ruff and GM Darcy Regier began this plan more than two years ago.
"We went to small, creative, fast forwards," said Ruff. "We've got some players who can flat-out go.
"Our defence, too, is mobile."
It's a strategy that best suits the new rules.
"We gambled," said Ruff. "We believed the league is going to be true to form on this one and that we'll be in good shape."
Taylor Pyatt scored the only even-strength goal late in the game.
Chad Kilger and Mariusz Czerkawski scored for the Leafs, 2-4-0.
Pat Quinn isn't sure how fans will react to the new NHL.
"Are we going to like it? I'm not sure," said Quinn, who doesn't like so many penalties being called. "I don't like some of the games I'm seeing now."
The Sabres ran into penalty trouble in the third period but they were already so far ahead that the win was neatly tucked away, and their penalty killing was vastly superior to that of Toronto. In the end, Buffalo was 4-for-12 and Toronto 1-for-8 on power plays.
Newcomers such as Pominville, who had two assists to go with his goal, might crack Buffalo's lineup. The 22-year-old native of Repentigny, Que., was a 30-goal scorer with the Sabres' AHL farm team in Rochester, N.Y., last season. He was the 55th player selected in the 2001 entry draft.
Ruff is going to have to find players to fill the void left by the departure of free agent Miro Satan, the Sabres top goal scorer in 2003-2004. He's asked Briere, Drury and Maxim Afinogenov to step up.
The Sabres have no worries in the nets. Ryan Miller, who went all the way Tuesday, played mostly in the AHL last season but is battling Marty Biron and Mika Noronen for a full-time Sabres job. Against the Leafs, he looked completely capable in stopping 34 shots.
Eddie Belfour went the distance for the Leafs and made 32 saves.
Notes: The Leafs didn't dress D Bryan McCabe, D Tomas Kaberle, LW Darcy Tucker, C Eric Lindros, C Jason Allison and RW Jeff O'Neill . . . Among Sabres not used were G Marty Biron, D Teppo Numminen, F Derek Roy, F Thomas Vanek and F Adam Mair . . . The Leafs assigned D Jay Harrison, F Brad Leeb and F John Pohl to the AHL farm team, the Toronto Marlies, earlier in the day . . . In the post-game shootout, which takes place after all games regardless of the score, Quinn gave Tie Domi a turn -- and Domi ended it by slipping the puck behind Miller. The goal that didn't count drew the loudest applause of the night . . . Toronto's next game is Friday in Detroit. The Red Wings visit Saturday to close out the Leafs' schedule of exhibitions.