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SABRES FACING A MONSTER TASK LINDROS, FLYERS' HIGH-SCORING TOP LINE ARE RED HOT

Hide the women and children, Eric Lindros is on the loose.

"He's just a monster," said Buffalo Sabres center Dave Hannan about the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Philadelphia Flyers center, who is one of the top scorers in the National Hockey League this season.

Hannan will be seeing a lot of Lindros tonight when the Sabres take on the Flyers at the Spectrum (7 p.m., Empire, Radio 550). He's usually matched up against the other team's top offensive line.

Slowing Lindros won't be easy. He's the major reason Philadelphia has been the hottest team in the NHL in recent weeks, going 8-1-1 in its last 10 games.

"It's a tremendous challenge," Hannan said about the assignment. "He is so big and so strong. I have to use my skating ability against him to get in his way and not let him into the play."

Lindros has been a center of attention throughout his hockey career. He was considered a potential superstar in junior hockey, and played well in his first two pro seasons with the Flyers. This season, however, he has taken his game to the next level.

"He's definitely a force," winger Wayne Presley said. "We saw him early in the season when he wasn't in great shape. He was struggling a little bit.

"But I remember playing against him last season. He's like (Pittsburgh's Jaromir) Jagr, hard to knock off the puck."

Helping Lindros this season are a couple of new playmates who have meshed well with him, particularly on the power play. One of them is John LeClair, who was acquired from Montreal in early February.

LeClair never scored more than 19 goals in a season while in Montreal and has 18 this season.

"In our league, when players are with a team for a number of years and they get traded, it's a breath of fresh air. For a guy like LeClair, he's on a line with a guy like Lindros who's powerful," Hannan said.

"Here's a guy who in Montreal had extreme pressure on him. They didn't play an offensive style. Now he gets involved. He goes to the net, and he knows he's going to get the puck a lot of the time."

The third member of the Flyers' top line is Mikael Renberg, who was one of the top rookie scorers in the league with 82 points in 1993-94. After a slow start in 1995, Renberg has picked up his game noticeably since playing with Lindros and LeClair and has 38 points.

When the three players team up, the result is what Sabres' coach John Muckler calls, "the best line in the league." Buffalo's challenge tonight will be to do what other teams have been unable to do -- keep them off the scoreboard.

"That line is extremely powerful," Hannan said. "They use their size. They go to the net especially well, and they all hang on to the puck well and do a lot of grinding. They're not very fancy, but they are good at coming off checks and going to the net."

Hannan believes the best defense against the high-flying Flyers line is a good offense.

"The best thing to work against that is to keep the puck in their end -- forecheck extremely well and not let them have a chance to come down into our end," he said.
Muckler declined to comment on a report in Saturday's Buffalo News that he would meet with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Monday. The report said Muckler would be questioned about last Sunday's incident between Muckler and a fan after the Sabres-Lightning game at the Aud. The News has since learned that assistant coach John Tortorella has also been summoned to the meeting.
Craig Simpson did not make the trip because of continued back problems. The left winger said his back simply became sore after Tuesday's game with Pittsburgh, which ended a stretch of five games in eight days. Simpson said he would try to return to practice on Monday. Nichols product Scott Thomas has been recalled from Rochester. . . . Alexander Mogilny, who missed part of Friday's game with a pinched nerve in his shoulder, missed Saturday's practice but was on the road trip.

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