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Shootout Fun

The Colorado Avalanche's Craig Anderson robs Adam Mair in the a January 9 shootout loss.

Marathon shootouts has fans at the edge of their seats

Enjoying the shootouts? Sabres fans have been treated to two marathons these past two weeks—at home against Colorado a week ago Saturday, and then this past weekend on Long Island against the Islanders. The two extra frames went 11 rounds and eight rounds, respectively. And both times resulted in losses for Buffalo.

Despite the disappointments, the Sabres managed to mine two very important points in the standings in those two games, and both times they managed to wipe out two-goal deficits to reach overtime. Additionally, in each game they were outplayed early, a disturbing pattern of late. Yet the resiliency and comeback effort of the Sabres was certainly heartening.

“It was a good point,” said Coach Lindy Ruff following the Colorado game. “Anytime you can come and battle back. The early penalties take out your key players and then you have to come back with them later on.”

According to league rules, shootouts in the NHL last three rounds. If after those three rounds the score is still tied, then the teams exchange shootout opportunities until the deadlock is broken.

So how does a coaching staff prepare lineups when shootouts break into a marathon?

“Just next…next,” Ruff joked. “We talked about it as coaches. You watch the defensemen; they do an abbreviated shootout drill at practice in the morning. I asked James [Assistant Coach James Patrick] who was the best and he said it was between [Henrik] Tallinder and [Toni] Lydman after [Tyler] Myers had gone. Myers could have scored, he just missed it on the move. You get that deep and you just cross your fingers and hope that somebody will score.”

Ruff admitted that the coaching staff plans for only a few shooters. “Just five or six,” said Ruff. “You never get that deep. I’ve seen a couple shootouts where it is hit or miss. We had a couple guys who just couldn’t close the deal.”

The sellout crowd in attendance at the Colorado game certainly left the building buzzing, despite the shootout loss. After sleepwalking through the first two periods, the Sabres came alive in the third, peppering the Colorado net with shot after shot. Goals by Thomas Vanek and Jochen Hecht late in the third tied the score at three, and during the overtime, the Sabres had a couple glorious chances to win it.

Then came the shootout.

Thomas Vanek scored the go-ahead goal in the fourth round, then Jochen Hecht scored in the eighth, but each time Colorado players answered. Myers lined up to try his trademark shot in the sixth round, and when he took to the ice the crowd rose and cheered. Myers attempted the backhand poke-in up close, a move which he landed with success earlier this season in a six-round shootout win against Tampa on October 24. This time he barely missed.

Following Tallnder’s miss in the 11th, Colorado’s Matt Hendricks fired a laser past Sabres goaltender Patrick Lalime, and just like that the game was over.

Said Lalime, “You always go for two points. That’s the mindset here.” Regarding the shootout, Lalime added, “It was a lot of fun for the fans. I like to watch the shooters. I want to know who’s coming and try to pick up on what I know about them.” Lalime admitted that playing against a western team like Colorado, with a lot of new players and young people, it is hard to know the next move. “You just go with it, one shooter at a time.”

The Sabres will be coming home next Wednesday following their 7,500-mile road trip across three time zones this week. Should the team continue to rack up points and steal points as they’ve been doing, and with rivals Ottawa and Boston in a free fall of late, they should be well positioned to put a lock on the division in the period leading up to the Olympics break.

Taro Sez...

• Drawing the winning number in the 50-50 drawing last week at HSBC Arena was none other than former Sabres netminder Gerry Desjardins. Which brought to mind an epic “Taro Sez” sign from the old Aud days: “Gerry, Gerry, quite contrary, how does Desjardins grow?”

• Last memorable marathon shootout was actually a preseason game. On September 23, 2006 at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, the Sabres beat Pittsburgh in an 11-round shootout, with newcomer Clarke MacArthur netting the game-winner. Also notable was Hamilton fans heaping boos and scorn on the Sabres, saving their loudest derision for Hamilton/Wentworth native son Adam Mair. Go figure!

• Will Stephane Auger be the referee this Monday when the Sabres play the Vancouver Canucks at General Motors Place? Canucks bad boy Alex Burrows was recently fined $2,500 by the league for blasting Auger on his alleged bias against him, a paltry sum that suggests that maybe the NHL is sending a message that Burrows has a credible argument.

League executive Colin Campbell was in studio with Hockey Night in Canada host Ron McLean this past weekend, and was hemming and hawing while Hockey Night in Canada presented ample video evidence to support Burrows’ case.

For now the NHL is trying to calm the situation down, and it’s likely that Auger will be kept away from Canucks games for the foreseeable future.

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