Another night. Another loss. And another reason to believe the powder keg that has become the Buffalo Sabres is getting ready to blow.
Coach Rick Dudley watched his Sabres drop their fourth straight game Wednesday night, 5-4, in overtime to Soviet Khimik. And although it was
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merely an exhibition game, another link in the Super Series between the National Hockey League and the Soviets, Dudley had no intention of brushing the result under the rug.
Dudley sensed the Sabres have decided not to play for him during Tuesday night's 8-3 rout at Detroit. Wednesday night's defeat crystalized the thought.
"They have no fear," Dudley said of his players. "They don't give a crap. They think they're going to be here forever."
It now seems quite clear. Either Dudley's days are low in number, or General Manager Gerry Meehan, taking the side of his coach, will commence restructuring Team Talent. Only an unforeseeable philosophical bonding between coaches and players can alter the course.
Meehan indicated Monday that his allegiance rests with the players. However, general managers from Quebec, Toronto and Winnipeg were in the Aud press box Wednesday night. In Rochester, home of the Sabres American Hockey League affiliate, Chicago and the Islanders had scouts watching the Amerks against Capital District.
If Meehan moves to restructure, there is reason to believe Sabres captain Mike Foligno will be among the first to go. Foligno was scratched for the season opener, a move that didn't sit particularly well with his teammates. He also was scratched from Wednesday's exhibition.
"It's their decision," Foligno said. "I hope I don't have to go anywhere."
Meehan was not available for comment.
Dudley acknowledges the pressure and implies that it's unwarranted.
"There's always pressure on a head coach," Dudley said. "He is always the easiest to be replace, whether it's justified or not. . . . We've tried different systems. But there are things they have to do regardless of who the coach is."
Dave Andreychuk said the players viewed Wednesday's exhibition as something much less than life or death.
"As a team we wanted to win the game," Andreychuk said. "We wanted to get going as a team. But whether we won or lost was not really the issue. We had to play a good game, that was the main thing."
But was this a good game?
"At times," Andreychuk said. "That's the way it's been the last three weeks. We've played well at times, and other times we haven't. We had a few breakdowns tonight they scored goals on, but we came back. I thought that was positive."
It could have been. Three unanswered goals, two by Andreychuk and the last by Benoit Hogue, gave Buffalo a 4-3 lead with 3:36 remaining in regulation. But Andrei Basalgin tied the score 45 seconds later with the help of poor checking by the line of Mike Hartman, Rob Ray and John Tucker.
When Valeri Zelepukhin scored 1:11 into overtime, memories of last Friday's 4-3 overtime loss to Hartford came in a flood. The Whalers scored with 30 seconds left in regulation and won in overtime. The shocking defeat lit the fire beneath what's now a steaming kettle.
"We lost this game on three incredibly stupid plays, three defensive plays that were beyond belief," Dudley said.
Two may have been stickhandling blunders by Christian Ruuttu and Grant Ledyard that resulted in Soviet goals.
The Sabres did some things well at the offensive end. A line of Andreychuk, Pierre Turgeon and Alexander Mogilny combined for eight points, with Turgeon getting the other goal.
"You have to look at the team we were playing against," Andreychuk said. "Defensively, they were suspect, especially when we got the puck in on them."
Exactly. So Dudley wonders how his team expects to sustain pressure against an NHL defense if it can't exploit a weak defense. Buffalo was outshot, 26-24.
"I think our defense has shown a lot of character," Dudley said. "Our defense plays reasonably rugged, our forwards don't."
Something has to give. And probably soon.