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NEW LINE HELPS DAWE FIND TOUCH SCORING SKID ENDS AFTER REALIGNMENT

Closed-door sessions between a player and coach are sometimes stormy affairs where a player is "chewed out" for his poor performance. Jason Dawe's story doesn't fit that description.

The Buffalo Sabres winger recently requested a meeting with coach John Muckler and told him he thought he should be playing more. Muckler responded by putting Dawe on a line with Pat LaFontaine and Alexander Mogilny.

Dawe has three goals in two games since that meeting, and he'll be back on the same line with LaFontaine and Mogilny today when the Sabres play on the road against the New York Islanders (1 p.m., Empire, Ch. 29; Radio 550, 1330).

"It all started with the game against Florida (March 24)," Dawe said. "I thought I played a pretty strong game. I was finishing my checks and skating pretty well. But the following game against Philadelphia (March 28), I didn't play all that much and I felt really good. I felt confident before the game. After the game I was upset because I wanted to play.

"So I told Muck that (Tuesday morning). At times, coaches have to go with their feelings and I wasn't scoring. But that night they told me I'd be playing with Pat and Alex. I was feeling good before, and I felt pretty good that night too."

Apparently so. Dawe scored a goal in the win against Quebec on Tuesday, and added two more in Thursday's romp over Ottawa. That's quite an improvement for a player who had scored two goals in 25 previous games this season.

"He's played very well there," Muckler said about his work with LaFontaine and Mogilny. "He's had two excellent games and he's working very hard."

LaFontaine has played in only seven games this season, and already he's had Yuri Khmylev, Craig Simpson, Peter Ambroziak and Dawe on his left wing. It reminds Muckler of when he was a coach in Edmonton, where he used to try many different people on a line with Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri.

"We did that all the time," Muckler said. "Gretzky had a lot of left wingers over the years. It was always Kurri and Gretzky there, and it will always be LaFontaine and Mogilny here. Maybe Dawe's the answer on left wing -- maybe he'll stay there forever. My experience is you'll probably see many people in that position, but for right now Dawe's the man."

Dawe's current hot streak is the latest development in what has been an odd year for him. He made the club in September, only to be sent to Rochester during the lockout. Dawe had a goal-scoring touch for the Americans, only to lose it when he arrived in Buffalo.

"It's sort of weird," he said. "When I was in Rochester, goals were coming pretty easy for me. You come up here and it's a totally different style of hockey. It's a lot quicker. It takes you a little while to get your confidence back to the same level.

"The way to get confidence is to work hard in practice, to put those extra 10 minutes before and after practice so that things will start to turn around."

The Sabres are hoping Dawe can stay hot during their next stretch of games. After today's game with the Islanders, Buffalo will face the Whalers on Tuesday at Memorial Auditorium and then travel to Boston and Hartford later in the week. New York needs to start winning games soon if it hopes to grab a playoff spot, while Boston and Hartford are right in the midst of the pack fighting for position in postseason play.

"The points are so close from fourth and eighth in our conference (five points going into Friday night's games)," Dawe said. "You can't take a night off. You have to work hard and be on top of your game every night.

"It's good, because it keeps you focused and ready all the time. It's a real good challenge for the team."

Simpson did not make the road trip due to a sore back. He's hoping to play Tuesday against the Whalers. Matthew Barnaby, who has missed the Ottawa game with a shoulder problem, did travel to Long Island. . . . Former Islanders' star Bob Nystrom will have his No. 23 retired before today's game.

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