Donald Audette wants to forget his physical problems of the past and look ahead to a breakthrough season as a goal scorer for the Buffalo Sabres.
Injuries, including major reconstructions on each knee, have been large factors in Audette's career with the Sabres, costing him the equivalent of 1 1/2 seasons. Now, however, for the first time in three seasons, he is starting off in full health and he wants to quit talking about past injuries.
"You could see at the end of the year I was back to normal," Audette said. "I just wish everybody would stop talking about that. It was over two years ago. It's time to look at the future."
Buffalo's leading goal scorer (28) and leading producer in power-play goals (eight), Audette represents the only proven sniper the Sabres have in their arsenal. He has more career goals (140) as a Sabres than any current member of the team, but there are those who believe he is capable of more. They see 40-goal potential.
"Obviously, he's one of the main cogs in this team," says Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "I'm going to help Donald score 40. He's going to be put in every situation that is going to command some scoring. He's going to be on the majority of our power plays."
When John Muckler was coach of the Sabres, he sometimes grew impatient with Audette for abandoning defensive responsibilities in search of a goal. Ruff seems willing to bend a little bit to accommodate Audette's strength.
"I think that all coaches at times are upset with goal scorers and it doesn't matter what team you're on," Ruff said. "You look at Ray Sheppard when he was here and when he was down in Florida. The flip side of the 40-goal guy usually is he's not a complete two-way player, but I think the real good goal scorers have to cheat the system a little bit. . . . but not on a consistent basis."
Audette knows his job is to score but says he's worked to improve his defensive play and concentration. "That (scoring) is what I'm here for," he said. "I don't think I'm here for my defensive play. My job is to create a lot of chances for my linemates and myself and just be careful in my defensive zone and not break away or force the play. Yeah, I'd like to shoot for 40."
But Audette says that reaching that target has grown more difficult because NHL scoring is down overall. There were 12 40-goal men in the NHL last season compared to 13 50-goal scorers in 1992-93.
"Scoring 30 now is almost what 40 used to be," Audette said. "Everybody playing the trap (the neutral-zone trap defense) doesn't help."
If Audette does approach 40, it probably will mean an improvement in the Buffalo power play. The Sabres clicked at a franchise worst 13.2 percent last season and, for the first time in team history, were last in the NHL in power-play efficiency.
Audette blames some of that on the loss of Pat LaFontaine, the main cog in the power play.
"If you want to win hockey games and go far in the playoffs, you need to have a good power play," Audette said. "We could have won at least six or seven more games last year just by scoring more on the power play."
In the preseason, the Sabres showed signs of improvement with the man advantage, and the addition of a qualified power-play point man in Jason Woolley figures to help. Also, Ruff seems determined to improve the power play just by emphasizing it even more in practice.
Buffalo's No. 1 unit in preseason had Brian Holzinger centering for Miroslav Satan and Audette, the designated sniper. The point men were Richard Smehlik (in the absence of holdout Alexei Zhitnik) and Derek Plante. The acquisition of Woolley frees Plante to play up front where his quickness and quick, hard shot could be effective weapons.
Audette sees some of the qualities LaFontaine brought in Holzinger and expects a big improvement in the third-year pro from Bowling Green State.
" 'Zinger' is going to have more experience. He's more confident than he was last year. I think he can be a great player," Audette said.
Holzinger and Audette also will be on the same regular line with Dixon Ward, a clever passer on the other wing. "My job is to get open and use my quick release. Dixon, he knows where I'm going to be," Audette said.
Among the present Sabres, only Rob Ray has been with the team longer than Audette. Brad May and Audette both joined the team for good in 1991-92. Since then Audette has added about 15-pounds to his 5-foot-8 frame.
When he was growing up and coming through junior hockey in Quebec, Audette got used to being told "You're never going to make it; you're too small."
"I don't to worry about that stuff any more," he said.
Year GPGA PtsPIM
1990-91 8 4 3 7 4
1991-92 63311748 75
1992-93 44127 19 51
1993-94 77293059 41
1994-95 46241337 27
1995-96 23121325 18
1996-97 73282250 48