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Sabres' stars face tough foes

No team provides a better model for the "new" National Hockey League than the Buffalo Sabres. Not just in the real world, but in fantasy land as well.

Since the NHL put more emphasis on offense following the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season, things have become much more fun for us fantasy addicts.

Last season produced seven 100-point scorers and five 50-goal skaters after the 2003-04 campaign yielded none in either category. Scoring league-wise increased to 6.05 goals per game last year, compared to 5.14 in 2003-04.

The Sabres' scoring output provides one of the most dramatic examples of that trend. Buffalo is averaging 3.78 goals per game, and is on pace for about 310 this season. Last year, the Sabres scored 281 for an average of 3.43, following 220 in 2003-04, or 2.68 per game. So in the course of a season and a half, the Sabres are scoring 1.1 goals per game more.

This week may not be the best time to load your fantasy lineup with Buffalo players, however.

Three of the Sabres' four games are against Northeast Division opponents -- at Boston on Monday and home against the Bruins on Wednesday, then at Montreal on Saturday after a home game against Vancouver the night before.

Center Daniel Briere, Buffalo's leading scorer, hasn't enjoyed much success against the Bruins or Canadiens this season. In two games against the Bruins, both Buffalo victories, he has just one assist. And in five games against the Habs, which includes three wins, he has one goal and one assist.

Montreal has done a great job of containing all five of Buffalo's top scorers. Briere, right wing Maxim Afinogenov, left wing Thomas Vanek, center Chris Drury and right wing Jason Pominville have combined for six goals and eight assists against the Canadiens. None of them has scored a goal in the last three games with the Habs.

Vanek (one goal, four assists) and Afinogenov (3-1) have been much more successful in the two games against the Bruins.


Edge to Kobe

NBA superstars Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki get together Thursday night at Dallas' American Airlines Center when the Mavericks meet the Lakers in the late TNT game.

The teams have split their first two meetings with Bryant scoring 59 points to 52 for Nowitzki. Bryant, who averages 28.2 points per game to rank fourth in the NBA, and Nowitzki, at 24.3 to rank 13th, have each shot 18 of 38 (47.4 percent) from the field in the series.

Since the start of the 2004-05 season, this marquee matchup has been all Kobe.

They've gone against each other nine times and Bryant scores 36.6 points per meeting. Nowitzki, at 24.4, is much closer to his career average of 22.1. Bryant scores better than 50 percent over his career average of 24.0.


Be an early bird

Monday is Martin Luther King Day so if you're managing a fantasy basketball or hockey team, adjust your body clock.

Monday is normally when owners set their lineups for the next seven days and you'll have a much shorter time to contemplate any changes.

Nine NBA games and five NHL games begin before the usual earliest 7 p.m. starting times.

The first NHL game, between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders, faces off at noon. Three NBA games tip off at 1 p.m.


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