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1-2-3: Sabres in quandary Biron now top goalie, but who is No. 2?

While the team charter airplane waited on the tarmac in frigid Buffalo, thick ice formed on the wings.

Once Martin Biron boarded, it wouldn't have been too ridiculous for passengers to glance out the window to see if the heat emanating from the Buffalo Sabres goalie could thaw the plane from the inside out.

Nope, the jet still needed to be de-iced before its delayed departure to Pittsburgh, where the soaring Sabres will play the Penguins at 7:30 tonight in Mellon Arena.

Biron has won each of his starts for more than a month. There's no question he's the No. 1 goalie.

Mika Noronen would like to know the rest of the hierarchy. The Sabres, with Ryan Miller healthy and ready to return, have reprised their nightly ritual of scratching an extra goalie.

"I still want somebody to go somewhere else, either me, Marty or Millsie," Noronen said after Thursday's practice in the Amherst Pepsi Center. "I want something to happen. A three-goalie situation is not good.

"I don't want to be that guy in the stands. I hope that something's going to happen."

Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier indicated in the preseason he would
not keep three goalies well into the season. With the halfway point quickly approaching, the Sabres still haven't made a trade.

"With Marty playing as well as he's playing right now, we get deeper and deeper into those same conversations," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. "I don't think, by any means, having three goaltenders around is an ideal world, but if you look back it's benefited us. Will it last long? I don't know."

There are clubs in pursuit of goaltending. The Vancouver Canucks are the latest potential suitor after Dan Cloutier was lost for the season after reconstructive knee surgery.

Any trade would have to occur over the weekend or wait until after Christmas. The NHL's holiday roster freeze will start Monday and run through Dec. 27.

"Hopefully they're doing a move instead of thinking about keeping all three of us," Noronen said. "I'm not really happy in the situation I'm in. Christmas is coming and I got three starts. That's not too much."

Noronen knows nobody other than Biron should be starting when the team has procured 25 of its last possible 28 points. Biron tonight can become the first to win a dozen starts in a row since Martin Brodeur eight years ago.

But which backup will play when Biron gets a well-deserved night off? Will it be the goalie who has been dressing as the backup (Noronen), or the goalie who started the first 10 games of the season (Miller)?

"Reality is we'd like to get a different goalie in and play," Ruff said. "But we'd also like to watch the game we're playing first before we make that decision.

"I've liked the practice habits of all three guys, and Ryan is really coming. I don't want Mika to be the forgotten man."

The Sabres, playing three games in four nights and four games in six nights, have a quick turnaround this weekend. They'll return to Buffalo after tonight's game and host the Penguins at 5 p.m. Saturday. The Sabres also play in Philadelphia on Monday night.

Ruff said the front office has considered sending Miller to the Rochester Americans for occasional game action, but Miller would continue to practice with the Sabres. Miller doesn't need to clear waivers to be assigned to the minors. Noronen does.

e-mail: tgraham@buffnews.com

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