If Dave Andreychuk scores a goal in New Jersey but no is there to see it, do the Buffalo Sabres still get two points for the win?
Assuming the answer is yes, Buffalo passed the idle Pittsburgh Penguins to move into fifth place in the Eastern Conference after beating the New Jersey Devils, 1-0, Thursday night. The Sabres, who play host tonight to the Phoenix Coyotes (7, Empire, Radio 107.7), completed a 4-0 sweep of their regular-season series with the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek once again played like a cross between an octopus and an Electrolux, posting his league-best eighth shutout of the season and second straight against the Devils.
The announced attendance at the Continental Airlines Arena was 6,203, as most Devils fans apparently stayed home to wait out a snowstorm. Surrounded by row after row of empty seats, both teams came out flat.
"These games are tough to play. It's tough for them to play, it's tough for us to play," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said of the sparsely populated building. "There's no atmosphere. It almost seems that when you get into a game like this, the game lacks emotion or a lot of intensity."
But Andreychuk found enough emotion, and enough aim, to score against his former team and post his 1,200th career point in the process. Midway through the second period Vaclav Varada passed him the puck as Devils defenseman Brian Rafalski tried to pry Andreychuk away from the right post. Andreychuk lost his balance, and was about to hit the ice when he snapped a shot that somehow beat New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur.
"I had a good pass in front. It was a good play (by Varada) - throw it in front," Andreychuk said.
"He's not usually standing up," Ruff quipped about Andreychuk's unique scoring touch. "He's on one knee or he's lying face-first on the ice, but he finds a way to get the shot off. He's a master of scoring that kind of goal."
The game featured four power plays for New Jersey and six for Buffalo, through all of which the Sabres' special teams performed like, well, the Sabres' special teams. Buffalo's NHL-leading penalty killers stifled New Jersey's power play, which entered the game ranked fourth in the league. But the Sabres also floundered with the man-advantage; during one second-period power play, Buffalo actually gave up two quality scoring chances while generating none of its own.
Hasek and the Sabres' defense weathered a flurry of third-period activity in their own zone, in which every Devils scoring chance seemed to rifle just wide of the net.
They also survived a scare when, with the clock running down, Rafalski beat Hasek on a shot from high in the slot. Hasek immediately began shaking his head, but it took the officials a few minutes to agree that time had run out before the puck crossed the goal line.
"I could hear the horn and the puck was still in front of me," Hasek said. "I was 99 percent sure when time expired."
"Dom is not wrong very often, and when he shook his head and was ready to leave, he knows the clock as good as anybody," Ruff said.
also is on that list. . . . Hasek picked up his 52nd shutout as a Sabre, moving into eighth place all time for shutouts with one team. Hasek passed Glenn Hall, and needs six shutouts to tie Jacques Plante for seventh place. . . . Buffalo's strong defensive performance compensated for a lack of production from the Stu Barnes-Maxim Afinogenov-Miroslav Satan line, which was held scoreless for the first time since it was formed four games ago. . . . Sabres defenseman Richard Smehlik left in the third period with a groin injury and did not return. . . . The Sabres' bus got caught in traffic on the way from their hotel to the arena, and they didn't arrive until an hour before the game. "It took us two hours to go a mile to get here," Ruff said.