The outlook doesn't get any brighter for the Buffalo Sabres' slumping offense against goalie Martin Brodeur and the stingy New Jersey Devils tonight at Marine Midland Arena.
Considering the difficulty the Sabres had in breaking through against much-traveled journeyman Pat Jablonski of the Carolina Hurricanes in a 4-1 road loss Saturday night, the prospects seem bleak against Brodeur, who leads the National Hockey League in victories (22) and save percentage (.924) and is second to Ed Belfour of Dallas in goals-against average (1.81).
Brodeur, though, isn't the hottest goalie in the NHL right now. That designation belongs to Dominik Hasek of the Sabres, who has five shutouts, a 1.56 goals-against average and a .949 save percentage in December.
After getting a rest in Carolina, Hasek is scheduled to return to the nets tonight. That sets up the prospect of a goaltending duel between the two men who engaged in the third-longest 1-0 game in league history. That was the sixth game of a first-round Stanley Cup playoff series between Buffalo and New Jersey in 1994. Buffalo won, 1-0, on Dave Hannan's goal at 5:43 of the fourth overtime.
Goals are scarce for a lot of teams in the NHL this season, but it's hard to imagine any team is having more difficulty putting points on the board than the Sabres.
Despite a 6-6-1 record for the month, Buffalo is averaging fewer than two goals a game in December with just 25. Five Sabres forwards have not scored since last month and four others have only single tallies.
Typical of the Sabres' problems hitting the twine was Saturday's loss to Carolina. Buffalo fired away with futility during a four-minute power play in the opening period, the last two minutes of which they enjoyed a two-man advantage. They came up empty on seven shots on net.
They finally ruined Jablonski's shutout on a consolation goal by Jason Dawe with 11:04 left in the game. It ended Dawe's streak of 15 games without a goal.
Dawe, who was leading the team in scoring before the slump, had not scored since Nov. 22, when he had a pair in a victory over the New York Islanders.
Even though it turned out to be meaningless, Dawe was relieved his drought was over.
"It would have been more exciting if I tied the game up or won the game for the team, but at this point I'll take a goal any time I can get one," said Dawe, who thought the Sabres' inability to take advantage of their power-play opportunity in the opening period was a key factor Saturday.
"Any time a team can kill off a five-on-three it's almost like scoring a big goal," Dawe said. "It was an opportunity to jump on the board early. We didn't do that, and that's probably when the momentum shifted."
Dawe noted that Jablonski was able to get a good look at most of the 26 shots the Sabres took. "We really didn't get a lot of traffic around him. A lot of our shots were from the point or from outside," he said.
Eleven of Buffalo's 26 shots against Carolina came from defensemen, led by Jason Woolley's five.
The Sabres know it will be difficult to beat Brodeur if they don't create more traffic in front of the New Jersey goalie.
While Hasek has come on the last five weeks, Brodeur has been consistent practically the entire season since giving up four goals in just two periods against Washington in the Devils' second game.
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Sabres: Brodeur a model of consistency
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In 22 of his 30 games, Brodeur has allowed two goals or fewer. During a 12-game personal winning streak, from Oct. 23 through Nov. 20, he allowed only 13 goals. He had another five-game winning streak this month, which included two of his four shutouts.
In November, Brodeur posted a 10-2 record, a 1.50 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage.
Hasek's numbers have been amazing lately. The Dominator has been in goal for 12 of the Sabres' 13 victories. In his 12 wins, Hasek has a minuscule 0.83 goals-against average, a .973 save percentage and has averaged 31 saves.
By way of comparison, Brodeur was 1.40 and .938 in his 22 victories, but his save average was only 22.7 in those games.
Even if the Hasek-Brodeur matchup comes out even or in the Sabres' favor, Buffalo's special teams will have to perform much better than they did in Carolina.
The Sabres, whose power play ranked 10th and penalty killers ranked 24th in the league going into Saturday night's game, will be facing New Jersey specialty teams that are among the best in the NHL.
The Devils' power play is second in the league with a 19.5 percentage and their penalty killers rank fourth at 88.5. New Jersey has scored 15 more goals on the power play than they have allowed. The Sabres are minus-8.
The Sabres held an early-afternoon team meeting at Marine Midland Arena Sunday, then the Devils practiced there.
Brad May of the Sabres apparently picked up a 10-minute misconduct penalty from referee Don Koharski before the start of the second period in Saturday night's Carolina game for trash-talking with some of the Hurricanes.
"I guess he was yapping with one of their players and he (Koharski) just decided to give him a 10-minute misconduct," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
Koharski consulted with the video replay official after Carolina scored the first goal of the game. There seemed to be no doubt that Nelson Emerson of the 'Canes was in the goal crease when the puck crossed the line, but the score stood up after a review that lasted more than three minutes.
"That's video replay," Ruff said. "The decision, upstairs, was that it was inconclusive. If it's inconclusive, they don't overrule it."