Miroslav Satan never quite understood why he was sitting on the bench. So he coughed up the puck and the miscue led to a goal. Satan would need all his fingers and toes to count how many times it happens in a season, especially given the Sabres' recent play. So what's the big deal?
He didn't appreciate being punished for all but 44 seconds of the first period Tuesday against the Atlanta Thrashers. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff is a patient man, sometimes too patient, but his kettle boiled over behind the Buffalo bench after watching Satan's lame attempt.
Satan spent some 19 minutes trying to figure out why he was sitting. He didn't appreciate being singled out. He didn't realize his banishment was less about the turnover and more about his effort or, in his case, lack thereof. His stab at absolution after the turnover was witnessing the first of Ray Ferraro's three goals.
It was about accountability.
The Sabres have expected more from their leading scorer all season, and he needed to be more involved. Satan has hardly been alone, but he spent most of the first 50 games watching from the perimeter, praying he could somehow make a difference from the right circle. When Ruff reiterated how certain players weren't paying the price to score this season, he often had Satan in mind.
Every player needs a proverbial kick in the pants every now and again. Looking back, maybe Ruff made a mistake by benching Satan against the Thrashers. He should have sat him down five weeks ago after a dreadful performance in San Jose when he played 19 1/2 minutes and didn't register a shot. The man who had 40 goals two seasons ago and 33 last year was lumbering along at a 26-goal pace through the first half of the season. Obviously, it wasn't enough for a team starving for goals and leadership.
"Well, I think it sent a message throughout the team, not just Miro," Ruff said. "When you can take your leading scorer and sit him down, then it can happen to anybody."
Since Ruff unlocked the shackles and set Satan free on his own recognizance, the winger has scored four goals in seven periods. He has scored in three straight games, which means he's on fire for this team. The right winger is starting to look like himself again.
He had two goals and two assists Saturday night in a 5-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils. It was his first four-point night since last March. He scored his first short-handed goal this season on a two-on-one when he wisely elected to shoot for an open spot just inside the post. His second goal came when he barged into the slot and flicked a one-timer from Maxim Afinogenov.
It was about time.
The Sabres saw some encouraging signs against the Devils, who many believe can successfully defend their Stanley Cup title. Afinogenov scored his fourth goal in six games. Rob Ray scored his fourth goal this season, giving him one more than winger Doug Gilmour. Jason Woolley snapped a 29-game slump with his second of the year. Granted, the Sabres' most impressive victory in weeks came against a Devils team patched up with Albany River Rats, but the Sabres will latch onto any positive, given the disturbing trend that surfaced last week.
And that brings us back to Satan. He became the first Sabre to score 20 goals this season, which shouldn't be a surprise. More telling is that he needed 59 games to reach the milestone. Satan's two-year, $5 million contract expires in July, and he'll be facing tough negotiators. Someone suggested that Satan might have been pressing this season to increase his leverage. Satan wondered whether he wasn't pressing enough, whether he was too relaxed on the ice. He had a good point.
You can't help but wonder how long this little roll will last. He's a streaky scorer. He tallied in eight straight games two seasons ago. The Sabres have a difficult schedule coming up, and they need leaders over their last 23 games. Satan wants to be counted as one of them. Maybe that's what Ruff had in mind all along.
"I want the responsibility," Satan said. "I would like to be The Guy on the ice. I would like to play as much as I can take and help the team. I want that role. I love that kind of role."