by Andrew Kulyk & Peter Farrell
Dainius Zubrus is now a Buffalo Sabre. Farewell to Martin Biron, the last player to wear the original blue and gold. Trade deadline day came and went Tuesday, and it was a very busy one for the Buffalo Sabres. By noon, Biron was gone to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for their second-round 2007 draft pick.
Shortly thereafter we learned that journeyman goalie Ty Conklin was coming over from Columbus. We can all remember Conklin from last year’s Stanley Cup finals, when he came in to spell the injured Dwayne Roloson and promptly surrendered the game winning goal to Carolina. By the next game it was Jussi Markannen between the pipes for the Edmonton Oilers.
But the day was not over, as GM Darcy Regier pulled the trigger to bring big forward Danius Zubrus from the Washington Capitals, who along with defenseman Timo Helbling come to Buffalo in exchange for Jiri Novotny and the Buffalo’s first-round draft pick. With Zubrus set to become a free agent at the end of the season, the Sabres are making a strong statement that this is the year.
Now it’s time to turn to the last 19 games of the season. Even with the trades, this is one very banged-up team, and the success of the prospects’ performance will determine the final seeding for the Sabres going into the playoffs.
Realistically speaking, the team needs to play .667 hockey from here on out to clinch first seed in the East. That would give the team 115 points.
Drew Stafford and Clarke MacArthur are hoping to serve up one big headache to General Manager Darcy Regier in the coming weeks. Both are among the callups from the Rochester Americans who have arrived to help, and both have every intention of showing that they belong in the NHL for good, giving Regier a difficult dilemma when the regulars are ready to return.
All the buzz after the Ottawa game last week involved the Drury hit, the fights, the ejections and the aftermath of the game, which brought a stiff fine to Coach Lindy Ruff and the rematch in Kanata.
Almost lost in the events of the evening was that Clarke MacArthur tallied his first NHL goal. Almost overlooked is that Drew Stafford was the first player to come to Chris Drury’s defense. Stafford later nailed his shootout opportunity to seal the win.
“I know I still have a lot to prove in this league,” said Stafford after the Ottawa game. “But I know I am ready now and ready to play at a higher level. I know it is a tough stretch for this team with all these guys going down at once, but I know the callups are more than ready to answer the bell.”
MacArthur was particularly satisfied with the hard-fought win. “It’s nights like this that really bring a team together. Everyone in this room is watching each other’s back and sticking up for each other.”
MacArthur almost got his second goal in the rematch at Ottawa, but his score at the end of the first period did not count, as the puck crossed the line less than a second after the buzzer had sounded.
Patrick Kaleta realized his boyhood dream when he donned the uniform of his beloved Sabres for the first time last week. Before his first game Kaleta admitted he was nervous. “I’m trying not to be too awestruck, but it is tough,” said Kaleta. Indeed, Kaleta had a large contingent of supporters on hand for his debut, some wearing Peterborough Petes Kaleta #25 jerseys, where he played his junior hockey.
Kaleta did notch an assist on the MacArthur goal and played a role in the second-period brawl. “I have complete confidence in him,” said Coach Lindy Ruff, who allotted Kaleta about six minutes of ice time in each of his first two games.
Despite the despair of all the injuries, here is something positive for us to wrap our arms around: At various points Spacek, Kotalik, Paille, Afinogenov and Drury will return. And maybe Tim Connolly. All these guys will have the benefit of returning fresh for the playoffs, at a time of year when the wear and tear of the regular season takes its toll on many players.
Scary good? You bet!
■ Ned Barnett is no longer writing for the Raleigh News and Observer, so we can now crown a new leader as Most Loathsome Sportswriter. Did you catch the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch on the MSG telecast last Saturday? His childish name-calling of Sabres owner Tom Golisano, among his other idiotic rants, were a complete and utter disgrace.
■ The Sabres entertainment crew is really having a tough year. First the Ted Nolan snub on New Year’s Day. Last week’s big props to former Sabre Alexei “I want to leave Buffalo to play for a contender” Zhitnik got a chorus of boos, and even poor Nicholas Picholas, the affable game night host, can’t buy a little love from the fans.
■ During a media timeout last Thursday, Sabres PA guy announced that Baby Joe Mesi had won his fight against the latest tomato can. Perhaps they were expecting a standing ovation culminating in dancing in the streets after the game. What happened instead was tepid applause combined with more than a smattering of boos. Nobody cares!
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