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LAFONTAINE SEQUEL NOT AS GOOD AS FIRST

Chapter II of "Patty Comes Home" wasn't nearly as dramatic as the first stanza.

When Pat LaFontaine played his first game as a New York Rangers in Marine Midland Arena back on Nov. 28, the former Buffalo captain had an assist and a goal in the first period. The Sabres eventually came back for a 3-3 tie.

Friday night was less eventful. The Sabres walked away with a 3-0 victory in a game that saw LaFontaine sitting in the penalty box when the final horn sounded. He spent the last 1:22 in the box after he was called for goaltender interference against Dominik Hasek of the Sabres.

LaFontaine received a polite welcome from the sellout crowd. Somebody cried out "We love you Patty" as the Canadian anthem was being sung and there were some signs hanging, but there was more concentration on hockey than memories.

And the Sabres and Hasek managed to keep LaFontaine as well as his teammates off the scoreboard this time.

"We never got any momentum going," LaFontaine said. "I give the Sabres credit. They seemed to try to clog up center ice and slow down the play and, of course, Dominik has been on a roll in December.

"It was a game where we couldn't get the momentum that we needed, to get that goal, or that little confidence builder. He did the same thing that he did to us in the Garden. Anytime you've got a goaltender playing as good as he is, you've got to get an early goal."

LaFontaine admitted that his second homecoming was not as emotional as the first, but said it was still nice to come back.

"Obviously, the first time you come back is special. After that things start to fall in place and you move forward," LaFontaine said.

He did get a chance to celebrate the Christmas holiday here. LaFontaine, his wife and three children drove here Thursday and his parents came here from Detroit. LaFontaine wasn't the only Ranger who had problems breaking through against Hasek Friday night.

"There was a lack of penetration, a lack of try," moaned Rangers coach Colin Campbell. "We didn't make him earn the shutout."

LaFontaine still leads the Rangers in scoring with 42 points and went into Friday night tied for fifth in the league. The goals, however, have not come in bunches for LaFontaine in December. In fact, he has only one goal this month, the game winner he scored Dec. 17 in a victory at Florida.

His last goal before that was against the Sabres back on Thanksgiving weekend.

In the first period Friday, LaFontaine did not register a shot on goal. His biggest contribution came on faceoffs. He won five and lost two.

LaFontaine was as dangerous as any player on the ice in the second period, however. He had two shots on net, one on New York's third power play of the night.

He had another scoring chance when he broke down the left wing, but he lost his edge as he approached the goal, slid behind the net, regained control of the puck and tried to come around the other side to beat Hasek with a wrap-around maneuver. Hasek was there to turn him back, though.

Despite the recent drop in his scoring luck, LaFontaine has been one of the bright spots in a disappointing season for the Rangers, who have won two fewer games than Buffalo.

The heat has been turned up on Campbell and some say that the only reason Rangers general manager Neil Smith hasn't pulled the trigger on a trade to shake up the team is the NHL's Christmas trade embargo. Rosters have been frozen for the last week, but that all ends after today.

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