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TURGEON WAGING BATTLE VS. THE SLUMP THAT HAS PRODUCED NINE-GAME DROUGHT

Pierre Turgeon's quest for career goal No. 100 has dragged on like the 100 Years War.

Turgeon has been stuck on goal No. 99 since Nov. 10. Worse, he hasn't budged from 24 points since Nov. 21. That equates to no goals in nine games and no points in five games with an additional two games lost to a mild knee sprain.

The prolonged drought carried into tonight's game against the visiting Boston Bruins (7:05, cable, WGR) has been a new experience. A 21-year-old centerman regarded as "the franchise," Turgeon has avoided 0-fers of this duration since the days he played youth baseball. He entered this season averaging exactly one point in each of his 236 National Hockey League games, that after scoring only 42 points in 76 games during his rookie season.

Expectations might be that Turgeon's frantically scaling the glass at Sabreland, desperate to escape the grasp of this humbling creature known as A Slump.

But it's not that way. Hockey players combat slumps in myriad ways. Some fight it in public view, grinding their sticks into sawdust or snapping the shaft over crossbars hoping the creature cowers into submission. But not Turgeon. He refuses to acknowledge the creature's existance or, when the unavoidable questions arise, grants the beast minimal recognition.

"There's a little bit of frustration, but I got to work through that," Turgeon said. "I don't want to be negative or it's going to be worse and worse. I want to stay positive, keep working hard; it's going to come."

Turgeon's slumps are magnified by the inconspicuous nature of his game. He's not the flashy skater eliciting oohs-and-ahs or the undeterred grinder always central to the action. Even on some of his better nights, nights when he piles up three assists, memory has a loose grasp on whether Turgeon has, in fact, played. Hence his nickname, Sneaky Pete.

But Turgeon's gift of deception becomes an albatross when his game is off the mark. It's much easier to sympathize with an ever-present Dave Snuggerud, who visibly struggles for every point. Since Turgeon collects his points with apparent ease, never seeming to break a sweat, his slumps create a false illusion of nonchalance.

"I haven't had a lot of chances," Turgeon said. "I got to work to try to be open all the time. When you got a man on you you have to work harder to get away from him, to come from behind the net or do what I used to do. The key is to have some chances. It (the talent) is still there."

Coach Rick Dudley hasn't lost patience while awaiting Turgeon's reemergence. After all, Dudley can't very well condemn the player who pulled the Sabres from their season-opening tailspin.

"Pierre's going to be fine," Dudley said. "He's been brilliant at times and he's been not so brilliant at times. But he carried us when we were at our worst. When I needed someone to get this team up at the worst period of my coaching here in the National Hockey League he was the guy to do it. He went into Toronto and had a big, big game, and then came back the next night when we needed to get something going and scored three goals against Hartford in a 5-0 win.

"Pierre's going to be there," Dudley said. "I have no worries about Pierre."

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